CD Review: Nils Lofgren - Face The Music

Unsung guitar hero Nils Lofgren gets a massive, career-spanning retrospective
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For many music fans, Nils Lofgren is best known through his work with Neil Young, where he was briefly a member of Crazy Horse and, more recently, for his time with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. A musician's musician, Lofgren has earned a reputation for being a great side man -- and deservedly so. A fantastic guitarist, Lofgren has proven that he plays for the song and has, arguably, made both legendary groups stronger in the process.

At the same time, Lofgren has been releasing critically acclaimed music of his own, both with his early band, Grin, and through his solo work. This music tends to be overshadowed by his work with giants such as Young and Springsteen, but a new box set, entitled Face The Music, aims to change that.

At 10 discs (Nine CDs and one DVD) and 169 tracks -- hand picked by Lofgren no less -- this box is not for the casual Lofgren fan. It is, however, the most comprehensive collection of Lofgren tracks ever assembled. The discs are broken down chronologically, with disc one covering the Grin years and disc two covering the solo years from 1975-1977. The third disc is comprised of his work between 1979-1983 while disc four covers 1985-1992. Sensing a changing record-buying atmosphere, Lofgren has self released his own music on his website since 1993 and the best of those years take up discs five through seven. Discs eight and nine are of most interest to diehard Lofgren fans, as they include 40 previously unreleased tracks while disc 10 is a DVD of select performances through the years.

There are numerous highlights in the collection. From the Grin disc, the gritty blues of "See What A Love Can Do" stands out while "Slippery Fingers" lives up to its name with its slinky guitar riff. The disc shows that even at an early age (Lofgren founded Grin at age 17), Lofgren's singing and playing was top notch.

From the solo years, "Back It Up" has a smart pop sound that recalls Jackson Browne while Lofgren turns in a blistering lead on "It's Not a Crime" that elevates the song from pleasant pop to something special. Like Lindsey Buckingham, Lofgren never lets the solo get in the way of the song, but he does let loose on occasion, to great effect.

"We Got Guys," is a bluesy, instrumental track with voiceovers by John Madden. Lofgren, a well-known football fan, released a CD some time ago for the All-Madden Team and even that album is represented here. Highlighting disc nine is an acoustic rendition of "Mr. Soul" from the Neil Young covers album, Nils Sings Neil. Lofgren offers a gritty, haunting vocal on this standout track. Along those lines, perhaps the set's biggest highlight is a rollicking unreleased version of "Keith Don't Go" that features Young on piano and vocals. The DVD features a number of live performance clips and music videos including several songs from a grin reunion show in 2004. It's a nice addition to a very comprehensive set.

While some diehards may complain that much of this material has been previously released, a fair amount of it is out of print on CD and to have it all in one place, and in uniform, remastered quality, is nice to have. The two discs of unreleased material are strong and the DVD adds to the collection's appeal. Face The Music is a great collection. Lovingly assembled, it is all the Nils you need.