Face the Music (Fantasy)
Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., Aug. 1, 2014
Journeyman defines decades of rock & roll service by Nils Lofgren but to the detriment of his bottomless catalog. The Chicago-born guitarist, who emerged from the D.C. scene in the late Sixties, remains best known for three decades' worth of service to Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, but don't forget key contributions to Neil Young and Ringo Starr ensembles. You won't with the 9-CD/1-DVD of Face the Music, meticulously compiling fan favorites, deep cuts, rarities, and alternate versions from that 40 years' worth of work. There's hardly a bad track in the bunch. A mainstream rocker from a time when that meant something, both as a solo artist and with his breakout band Grin, Lofgren never bothered with genres or trends, outside of the same Eighties-era fripperies that afflicted nearly everyone. He writes strong melodies, sings them with conviction, and demonstrates six-string virtuosity with a masterful mix of innate skill and accessibility. This self-curated and annotated set hits his obvious highlights ("Back It Up," "Valentine," "No Mercy"), but the gems crop up as generously as the lengthy track list. Anthems ("Steal Away," "Secrets in the Street"), pop rocks ("Confident Girl," "Frankie Hang On"), obscure soundtracks (Every Breath), a whole disc of Grin highlights, and tunes lovely ("Sad Walk"), rollicking ("Walkin' Nerve"), and disco-bent ("I Came to Dance") – the list literally goes on and on. Though too many for one sitting, the quality of the songs justifies the space allotted to them. There's a modesty to Lofgren's work, as if he's confident in his abilities but feels no need to prove it. While that likely prevented him from being a full-fledged "rock star," it allowed Nils Lofgren, 63, the freedom to make consistently memorable music in an unforgiving industry.