Review: Nils Lofgren Debuts Long Forgotten Lou Reed Collaborations on 'Blue With Lou'
You'd think two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers collaborating would be cause for immediate fanfare and a huge release of their joint materials, but often it's not so. Artists collaborate and then become busy with their main projects, pushing the songs to the side for so long they risk becoming forgotten. Such was the case when E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren and two time Hall of Famer Lou Reed worked together. That is rectified on Lofgren's new solo album Blue With Lou, releasing Apr. 26 on Lofgren's own independent label Cattle Track Road Records.
The pair were introduced in the late '70s by producer Bob Ezrin and wrote approximately a set of tunes together. A few have since seen the light of day, three on Reed's 1979 album The Bells and six more on Lofgren's Nils, Damaged Goods, and Breakaway Angel, but the majority of those songs were locked away in a trunk while Lofgren and Reed stayed busy with other projects. On Blue With Lou, Lofgren dusts off six of these songs, half of the album's material and only one that has seen previous release.
The album's highlight is that one previously released song, “City Lights.” An album cut for Reed on The Bells, the tale of silent comic legend Charlie Chaplin's banishment from the United States during the McCarthy hearings gets an almost reggae beat and a great saxophone turn from guest Branford Marsalis. While a song about a silent comedian might not seem the most topical material, it proves timeless as the themes of paranoia and the consequences of rash actions, in this case the lost of the final third of one of cinema's great genius' career output, certainly rang true when written in the shadow of Watergate and are just as much so now as journalists are labeled “enemies of the people” by those in power.
Another outstanding collaborative song is “Attitude City.” A driving rocker that utilizes the kind of blue collar guitar work Lofgren has shown off for 30 years with Bruce Springsteen, “Attitude City” is a song so catchy that it's a shock that it was one of the songs that never found a home in the previous recordings.
But the half of the album written solely by Lofgren holds up well against the co-writes with Reed. “Rock or Not” is a driving protest song about taking action on the issues you care for instead of sitting on the sidelines. “Dear Heartbreaker” is a touching tribute to Lofgren's friend Tom Petty while “Remember You” closes out the album with a gentle remembrance of Lofgren's dog Groucho. And, of course, the album's title track pays tribute to the album's co-writer Reed.
Recorded live in the studio after only a week of rehearsal, Lofgren and his longtime collaborators Andy Newmark and Kevin McCormick intentionally went for a no-frills approach to the album's production, which Lofgren co-produced with his wife Amy. Aside from the previously mentioned appearance by Branford Marsalis and harmony vocals throughout by Cindy Mizelle, what you hear on the album is as close as possible to what you can expect live.
If you want to see Nils Lofgren perform the songs from Blue With Lou,his tour kicks off May 10 with a sold-out show at Dakota in Minneapolis before going on to do two night stands in multiple City Winery venues in New York, Nashville, and Atlanta, as well as a pair of nights at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. The full slate of tour dates is here.