Nils Lofgren never fails to deliver albums filled with glorious guitar playing, heartfelt songs, and a soulful look at the human condition. That his latest, Mountains, features all should come as no surprise.
Analyzing a Lofgren album can seem self-defeating because his artistic greatness comes down to this: No one can play or write as he can. Like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, who have had Lofgren on hand for some of their greatest works, he writes the way only he can, and imitating it proves futile at the very least and embarrassing at the worst. What is it that he does on guitar that’s so fascinating? Maybe nothing that others can’t do, technique-wise, but they’ll never have Lofgren’s heart or his fingers. Surely, Jackson Browne could have written a song like “Dream Killer”, but there, too, it wouldn’t have that deft and elusive Lofgren touch.
If you have a handful of Lofgren recordings (and by this time, you’d better), you can probably guess that positive vibes prevail in the lyrical department, that love is good, darkness is bad and soul-robbing, and if we think really hard, maybe we can stop all this pain. That’s all true here too.
Coming four years after his last record, the Blue with Lou, which featured five tunes he’d written with Lou Reed and which was a particular high point in a career filled with them, Mountains doesn’t disappoint. The guitars are nice and loud, the playing vivid and imaginative, and the writing as strong as it’s ever been in Lofgren’s career.
In the former category, one only needs to listen to the aforementioned “Dream Killer”, which is filled with plenty of hot licks/cool tricks and other things that Lofgren pulls out of his hat. He might be saving the acrobatics for the records these days rather than doing backflips on the stage, but that’s OK. “Won’t Cry No More” (dedicated to Charlie Watts) has plenty of filthy, gutsy maneuvers, the kind of thing that Lofgren has done since his days leading Grin and which we audiences can’t get enough of. If “Only Ticket Out” sounds like 1989, that’s OK too; we wouldn’t have it any other way.
He’s joined by a crack group of musicians, including Ron Carter on “Only Your Smile” (the veteran bassist elevates the track in a way that only he can), Andy Newmark adds drums to two pieces, and Kevin McCormick lends his inimitable and inestimable work to four tunes. This might also very well mark the last time that Neil Young and David Crosby appeared on the same record, albeit via two different tracks—Young lends his voice to “Nothin’s Easy (For Amy)”, and Crosby does a fine job on “I Remember Her Name”.
It’s hard to say if this is Lofgren’s finest hour or just another fine hour in a long line of them, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter. We’re lucky to have him and his music and fortunate to have entries such as this one in his body of song. Nils Lofgren is one of the finest ever to grace recorded music, and with each album, he delivers something we didn’t know we needed but now somehow can’t live without.