As the opening verses of the Neil Young gem “Birds” welcomes the listener into The Loner: Nils Sings Neil, it only takes a moment of adjustment to hearing a different voice sing the lyrics of this most gentle song. Much like Dwight Yoakam’s Dwight Sings Buck and John Hammond’s Wicked Grin, Nils Lofgren has visited a catalog of music written by a mentor and friend for both the listener’s and the artist’s enjoyment. This is truly a solo album with the only contributing artist being Nils switching between a sparse piano and a humbling guitar. In fact, the guitar is the exact Martin D-18 which Neil Young himself gave to Nils upon completion of After the Goldrush.
Unlike the aforementioned albums, Nils actually holds closer ties to the original versions of these songs since he played on many of those versions. The testament to Nils and these songs are how well they hold up without Neil’s unmistakable vocal high. “World on a String” and “Long May You Run” are delivered with a tenderness and an understanding of someone who has carried with them the emotion of these songs since their inception. And one shouldn’t think that the rock ‘n’ roll attitude of “Mr. Soul” is lost in this type of setting; whether played on an acoustic guitar or with a full rock band, a rock song is a rock song. These 15 tracks become more than a reinterpretation of the originals than a celebration of one mentor’s timelessness.
The Loner is out now on Hypertension.