Ooooh-wee.....Nils Lofgren is TICKED OFF! On his first album of new original material since 2006's excellent SACRED WEAPON, Lofgren angrily takes on aging, hipsters, drug addiction, lost love and a shrinking circle of friends (among other things).
Yet, this isn't just some musical rant...Lofgren tempers his ire with thoughtful insight and, most importantly, a wry and wicked sense of humor. The result? Another powerful release. (On a side note, I have to say that Lofgren's 2009 effort THE LONER, an album of Neil Young covers that I almost ~ stupidly! ~ passed on, has really helped his writing....there's just something deeper and richer, more full-bodied to it. And, no, this is NOT a coffee commercial!).
Things kick off with the blistering title track. Amid ringing guitars, thundering percussion and swinging horns, Lofgren makes it VERY clear that he's not happy with the direction things are headed in. From disaffected youth to ineffectual government, things are not good. But it's the softness on crime ("A simple cry for help would've saved her/Now you want out on "what?" behavior") that really stands out and hits home. A great note to open things on!
Just as strong is the pulsating "60 Is The New 18." Edgy and sad all at the same time, Lofgren delivers the song in equal parts awe, disgust, humor, astonishment and weariness. But it's the lyrics that really grab you: "Yoga, lattes and facial scrubs/Got STDs from group hot tubs/I disgust myself so I pill and drink/The world's so nuts I'm afraid to think." In other words, grow old gracefully, and look upon the gray hair and wrinkles as badges of honor earned.
"Miss You Ray" is not just a tribute to the late, great Ray Charles, but to many of the other greats as well who have come and gone. Cushioned by a delicate acoustic arrangement, Lofgren's heartfelt vocal dances over the supple chords. Some times less IS more, and this sweet track is a prime example of that particular philosophy. Lovely...just lovely.
"Love Stumbles On" lopes along at an easy-going, relaxed pace. The arrangement is minimal, yet powerful, while Lofgren's vocal is strong and assured. But, once again, it's the lyrics that really shine ~ lines such as "Armed with compassion you enter the fray/And live to love another day" and "In a shattered world so completely wrong/Love finds a way, love stumbles on" just jump out at you, dazzling the listener with their style and grace. Very nice.
"Amy Joan Blues" is an absolute toe-tapper....if this one doesn't get you moving, well, I don't know what will! A heartfelt paean to his wife, Lofgren just pours his heart and soul into the cut. Best thing about the track, though? Paul Rodgers' KILLER harmony vocals....SWEET!!!
Things slow down a notch or ten with "Irish Angel", a gorgeous ballad. Awash in atmospheric strings, piano and acoustic guitars, this track just floats out of the speakers. In fact, if you didn't know better, you might think this was an old folk classic, reworked into a contemporary setting. One of OLD SCHOOL's finest moments.
Ditto "Ain't Too Many Of Us Left"....I LOVE this song! Starting with a magnetic, hypnotic groove, Lofgren just builds on the intensity....spirited vocal, great harmonies courtesy of Sam Moore, pointed lyrics about death and the changing landscape of rock & roll....it all comes together here. Definitely one of Lofgren's Top Five songs to date. Nuff said!
"When You Were Mine" is really two stories....one is a love story, the other a humorous take on the relationship between Paulie and Harley. Though, I gotta say....as much as I love Paulie's fate (and Harley's part in it!), it's the love story that wins out....simple, soulful instrumentation and sincere, sweet lyrics ("I fantasized 10 years down the road/A crinkling 'round your eyes/An ageless soul so lovely and bold") blend in an exquisite mix. Now, if only things could have ended as well for Paulie.....!
I have mixed feelings about "Just Because You Love Me"...on the one hand, I love ANYTHING with hand claps in it....but I also can't help but wonder if this one would have worked better as a ballad? I like it...it's infectious...but I still have my doubts. We'll call this one a draw.
No such doubts about "Dream Big", the disc's most adventureous cut. With it's layered tribal beats, electrifying strings and pin-point, precise finger-picking, the song is akin to a musical spider's web. Toss in a mesmerizing lead vocal that slowly ~ but surely! ~ convinces you to "Dream big"...and "dance a lot", and you have a trap that you just can't escape from! Another high point.
"Let Her Get Away" sports some nice acoustic guitar playing, but there's something about the cut that just seems a little...off. I'm not sure what it is....the vocal, the lyrics, the overall track....there's just something here that just doesn't..quite...gel. O.K., maybe even good...but not great.
The same can be said about "Why Me." Full of undeniably admirable lyrics and an honest, unadorned vocal, the song never the less has a dated, familiar feel to it...Lofgren's been here before. Personally, I would have prefered to see things end on a tad bit more edgy, powerful note.
But that's just a minor complaint. The fact of the matter is, OLD SCHOOL is a welcomed addition to Nils Lofgren's catalog, a catalog that's gotten particularly stronger over the last decade or so with his four most recent releases. Here's hoping Lofgren continues to do it "old school"....after all, there ain't too many of them left! And we're all the lesser for that fact. (As with all my reviews, I'm giving the disc an extra half a star for including the lyrics).