Firmly ensconced for twenty-four years now as a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Nils Lofgren has never abandoned the solo career he was nurturing when Neil Young asked him to play on After the Gold Rush. The two rockers have built an abiding relationship over time and it continues to this day in the form of The Loner: Nils Sings Neil.
Lofgren doesn’t choose the obvious Neil Young songs. There’s no "After the Gold Rush," but rather from the same album, the plaintive “Birds,” exhibiting the fragility which overflows in both Lofgren’s voice- as well as in his piano playing. As on "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" and "Don’t Let It Bring You Down," Lofgren displays a vulnerability all too obviously heartfelt, if only because this ever so subtle emotion cannot be copied.
"Like A Hurricane" is here too, but as an acoustic ballad instead of an out and out rocker, exactly the kind of reinvention of material Young has mastered over the years. Obviously a labor of love on Lofgren’s part, there’s an autobiographical strain running through The Loner: "World on a String" comes from the Tonight’s the Night project of which Nils was an integral part and in his hands it becomes a country blues workout unlike virtually anything in Neil’s discography. Lofgren also reaches back to Young’s Buffalo Springfield period too, but Nils doesn’t make all the most obvious choices here either.
Two of the most seamless marriages of vivid melodies and well-wrought sets of lyrics in Young’s catalog – "I Am A Child” And "On the Way Home" – can never get too much attention. "Flying on the Ground" from the Springfield debut was one of Young’s first vocal spotlights, and it is absolutely haunting here, as is “Mr. Soul,” the skeletal arrangement of which turns it into the definition of introspection.
A tribute to the relationship between Neil Young and Nils Lofgren and a testament to the Canadian’s longstanding reputation as a songwriter, The Loner also reaffirms Lofgren’s sensitivity as a performer as it captures his versatility as musician, even though it only features him playing acoustic piano and guitar (to the exclusion of his flamboyant electric guitar skills). The author himself would be hard-pressed to render this program of tunes in a more penetrating fashion than this artist does.