Shut And Open Case
Old School is an interesting title for this album. After listening I think it is musically more declaration than realisation as rock is rock and Nils Lofgren writes and performs here the guitar driven and balladic rock songs he has for years, and which others - in their own ways but within its conventions - have in the past but also today and no doubt forever. It is timeless, not age-related.
The title’s sentiment is therefore more in the song’s lyrical preoccupations. On this album Lofgren is in a reflective, meditative mood. Aged 60, he isn’t quite standing on that final hill to look back upon a life and musical career, but he is reminiscing about aspects of this, and death too, the latter informed by the realities and consequences of getting older – where family and friends increasingly encounter this loss – and the specific memories of fellow E Street Band players, keyboardist Danni Federici and saxophonist Clarence Clemons. This is the focus of track Miss You Ray, written for Ray Charles, but in recent interviews Lofgren has observed that since the death of Clemons he does think of the Big Man as well as reference him when performing this song live. It is a beautiful ballad, echoes of Springsteen in its descending vocal line.
Opening track Old School, with guest accompanying vocalist Lou Gramm from Foreigner, is the album’s outright rocker and is a rousing one at that, Lofgren’s slide guitar making its own declaration that here is one of rock’s greatest practitioners. The song with a title that should make the most strident claim 60 Is The New 18, is for me the weakest musically though there is wit in its take on those trying too hard to hang on to their imagined youthfulness. Love Stumbles On presents a wry and wise observation on resilience, and it’s hopeful in its contemplation. Amy Joan Blues presents another quest vocalist, this time long-standing friend Paul Rodgers, and is a jaunty barroom blues number. Nothing ‘old school’ in the recording of this: Lofgren has commented on how the vocals were transferred digitally, he and Rodgers collaborating over the internet! This is followed by the beautiful Irish ballad Irish Angel written by Bruce McCabe and highlights Lofgren’s gentle vocal. Ain’t Too Many of Us introduces the third guest vocalist, and this time a face-to-face recording with the great Sam Moore – it is another strong song reflecting on past achievements but also loss, with snatches of Lofgren’s guitar harmonics within the sublime solo, his signature excellence. When You Were Mine is another sweet and emotive ballad, the personal storytelling ringing true and again thoughtfully reflective about friendship surviving. Perhaps the ‘old school’ here is in the strength of age that values what has gone before and which is translated with such empathy in the songwriting. Just Because You Love Me is the most obvious Springsteen-influenced tune on the album, and eleventh track Dream Big is Lofgren taking the privilege of his age to extol the virtues of being bold but humble in doing your best: dream big, work hard, stay humble – give big, stay strong, be humble, humble, humble. Perhaps this is the album’s touchstone moral, and I’ll trust and listen, but with two and a bit years to my own sixtieth I perhaps have an inkling.
The album’s closing two songs are both slow and soothing. Penultimate Let Her Get Away is another song reflecting on regret and acceptance with Lofgren in fine maturing voice. Closer Why Me is carried by a scorching guitar throughout, the harmonics-wail symbolising Lofgren’s defiance and strength, both as writer and performer in this paused but not final stand, and as he declares in typically earnest cliche, when one door shuts another opens wide.