After Bruce Springsteen cancelled a planned E Street Band tour in 2020, Nils Lofgren spent many long pandemic hours in his home studio in Scottsdale, Arizona, jamming along to records by Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Soon he realised he needed to do something more creative with his time. “So I decided to make a record. Whatever comes out, I’ll just share it with people.” The bluesy Mountains, his first album of all-new originals in a decade, sounds lively and engaged, by turns angry at the state of the world and ecstatic over the state of his marriage.
“I don’t have a lot of patience in the studio, so I waited until I had the entire album written before I started recording,” he explains. “If I sing live to a piano, I can get an emotional vocal, then it becomes exciting to fill in the blanks and experiment with different colours.” Often that meant matching the right song with the right musician: Ringo Starr, E Street vocalist Cindy Mizelle, jazz bassist Ron Carter, among others.
His wife Amy Lofgren, who co-produced, inspired two new songs. “I Remember Her Name” is a sweet story-song about how they met at a show in the ’70s, then reconnected nearly 30 years later. “I thought it would be a great one for David Crosby, and of course he sang beautifully on it. I’m sad that he didn’t live to hear the album, but I did send him a rough mix of the song. He did get to hear it before he died in January.”
For the gentle love song “Nothing’s Easy”, Lofgren reached out to Neil Young. “He brought that haunting, gentle soul that he has. I remember meeting him when I was 17 or 18, and I did piano sessions for After The Gold Rush, even though I wasn’t a pro piano player. I learned so much from him about keeping things immediate, not fixing the rough edges.”
Lofgren applied that philosophy to Mountains, which lends a sense of spontaneity to these songs – especially his cover of the Springsteen deep cut “Back In Your Arms”. “When we would play that song live, we slowed it way down, like a Percy Sledge ballad, and he would do a long rap at the beginning: ‘Guys, you’ve done your girl wrong! You gotta get down on your knees!’” Lofgren speeds it up and adds the mighty Howard University Gospel Choir.
“I don’t really have a great R&B voice like Bruce does, so I wanted to get them to sing it with me. There’s so much youth and joy in their singing. It’s a good reminder that music is magic. Every day, billions of people turn to music, and it heals and unites them.”
Mountains is released by Wienerworld on July 28