Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH
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Master rock singer-songwriter-guitarist Nils Lofgren returns on April 26 with Blue With Lou, an all-new collection featuring a dozen dazzling, forceful songs, half of which were penned in collaboration with the late, legendary Lou Reed.
The 12-track collection, issued on Lofgren’s own Cattle Track Road Records in single-CD and double-LP configurations, and due out on April 26, 2019, was produced by the musician and his wife Amy. Basic tracks were recorded live at his home studio in Arizona with longtime collaborators Andy Newmark (drums) and Kevin McCormick (bass). Saxophonist Branford Marsalis is featured on a new recording of the Lofgren-Reed composition “City Lights.”
Five more songs co-written by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have never seen the light of day and have remained in the trunk for decades.
Producer Bob Ezrin, who had worked with Lofgren, and previously worked with Reed on his concept album Berlin suggested the collaboration, leading to Lofgren and Reed spending a long night at Lou’s New York City apartment discussing the collaboration which led to 13 songs penned together.
“I kind of forgot about the idea,” Lofgren recalls. “About a month after that, I was sound asleep, the phone rang at 4:30 in the morning, and I answered it in the dark. ‘Hey, Nils, it’s Lou Reed.’ That woke me up. He said, ‘I’ve been listening to the tape you sent, and I love it. I’ve been up for three days and nights straight. I haven’t slept. I’ve been working on your tape. I’ve completed 13 sets of lyrics that I love.’ And I’m like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me.’ Then he said, ‘If you wanna get a pad and pencil, I’ll dictate them to you.’ We spent two more hours on the phone. You can imagine my excitement.”
Ultimately, the co-written songs “A Fool Like Me,” “I Found Her,” and “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” (the last co-written with guitarist Dick Wagner) appeared on Nils, while Reed claimed “City Lights,” “Stupid Man,” and “With You” for his own 1979 album The Bells. The pair’s “Life” appeared on Lofgren’s Damaged Goods (1995), while “Driftin’ Man” was recorded for his Breakaway Angel (2001).
After Reed’s death in 2013, Lofgren revisited the idea of recording their unheard songs. He says, “They got left by the wayside. Years went by, and it kept nagging at me. I thought, look, Lou’s not here to deliver these lyrics. He was inspired when he did this. It would be a shame not to share it.”
Lofgren began shaping those tunes and refining his own new original songs during his stint with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band during the group’s tour in Australia, 2017.
“I began preparing, arranging, and practicing to be able to have every lyric written, every melody,” he recalls. “The goal was that by the time my old friends Andy Newmark and Kevin McCormick got to the house to record, I could perform every song live with no problem. I wanted to go for live takes, no matter what instrument I was playing. Then it would be fine to go in and fill in the blanks, add background vocals, add extra sounds. But I wanted to keep it a very simple record. I practiced for that a long time while I was preparing the sessions.”
Captured live in the studio following a solid week of rehearsal time with the rhythm section, the newly recorded Lofgren-Reed compositions — “Attitude City,” “Give,” “Talk Thru the Tears,” “City Lights,” “Don’t Let Your Guard Down,” and “Cut Him Up” — exhibit the combination of swagger and sensitivity that has always characterized the work of both artists.
Those taut, hard-hitting songs are complemented by six all-new Lofgren numbers, his first fresh original material since 2011’s Old School. Not unexpectedly, Blue With Lou takes its title from a song honoring his late colleague.
“I had the title and the groove,” he says, “and I worked from that like a jigsaw puzzle on this homage to Lou and what I took from him, which is, yes, we’re in a mess here, but there’s beauty and hope in all art. The theme of the record is about being expressive, keeping it live and raw, and moving forward, trusting your instincts.”
That theme and that attitude extends to the anthemic track “Rock or Not.” Lofgren says, “In the climate that we’re in, it turned into my version of a protest song — come on, talk’s cheap, sh*t or get off the pot, let’s freakin’ get some stuff done.”
Blue With Lou also features the deeply affecting ballad “Too Blue to Play,” which Lofgren describes as a metaphorical look at his relationship with wife and creative partner Amy, and two songs of loss, “Remember You” (a reminiscence about the family’s beloved dog Groucho), and “Dear Heartbreaker” (a tribute to his longtime friend Tom Petty).
He says of the latter two numbers, “All these things, these people and friends that are gone, are not forgotten. You’ve got to find their spirits and hook into them as companions moving forward. I felt those songs went together and they needed to be at the end of the album.”
Riding a sound that is straight-ahead and largely unadorned, save for a small men’s choir and the featured vocals of Cindy Mizelle, Blue With Lou is as direct and hard-hitting as any recording of Nils Lofgren’s long and distinguished career. He says, “I definitely feel a greater urgency and inspiration in the music, thanks to all that we laid out to accomplish on this heartfelt project.”
In early May, Lofgren will kick off a U.S. tour in support of the album.
NILS LOFGREN TOUR DATES
Fri., May 10 MINNEAPOLIS, MN Dakota
Sat., May 11 MILWAUKEE, WI Potawatomi Casino
Sun.-Mon., May 12-13 CHICAGO, IL City Winery
Wed., May 15 CINCINNATI, OH Longworth-Anderson Series at Memorial Hall
Thurs., May 16 KENT, OH Kent Stage
Sat., May 18 BOSTON, MA City Winery
Sun.-Mon., May 19-20 NEW YORK, NY City Winery
Tues.-Wed., May 21-22 ALEXANDRIA, VA The Birchmere
Fri.-Sat., May 24-25 NASHVILLE, TN City Winery
Sun.-Mon., May 26-27 ATLANTA, GA City Winery
Thurs., May 30 AUSTIN, TX 04 Center
Fri., May 31 HOUSTON, TX The Heights Theater
Sat., June 1 BEAUMONT, TX Jazz & Blues Fest at Jefferson Theatre
Sun., June 2 DALLAS, TX The Kessler Theater