Sacred Weapon – Nils Lofgren
Vision Music 1012
When you have faith, there are no questions
And without it, all the answers disappear
- "Tried and True," Nils Lofgren
I must be getting old because the rich, mellow Nils Lofgren vibe goes down quite well. His latest solo album is a long overdue salvo from one of the more gifted instrumentalists in New Jersey’s biggest noisemakers, the E Street Band — otherwise known as Bruce Springsteen’s best on-again/off-again supporting group of musicians (the Boss’s brilliant Pete Seeger project, notwithstanding). Lofgren has crafted a wounded soul soldier collection, brief tapestries revealing an undercurrent of traditional spiritualism, wrecked beauty slow dancing with a city vet schooled in hard knock chicanery. He employs a handful of session musicians that are more than competent but he plays most of the well-chosen Americana instruments himself — guitars, piano, accordion, dulcimer, glockenspiel, pedal steel, dobro, bottleneck fuzz bass and hummingbird feeder.
I’m not a religious manmy soul, a gypsy; my faith, homeless. Therefore, it comes as an ironic twist that in 2006, I have come across three great albums of sublime music rooted in reverent tales of faithDel McCoury’s Promised Land, David Grisman and Andy Statman’s New Shabbos Waltz and, now, Lofgren’s Sacred Weapon. Here’s the higher power’ sonic hook for me. I don’t want to be preached to anyone. I don’t care about tradition, man’s interpretation of history or the cosmos. I don’t want to be saved; I just want to be free. A natural iconoclast and anti-authority figure with a NO SOLICITORS sign around my neck, I tend to veer from the path of those that are too earnest in their humorless self-righteousness; hence, my abhorrence to most spiritual music and even the music of Springsteen, himself. There is something oppressive and less than divine about Jersey’s favorite son (and Bono, for that matter)a gifted songwriter, who devoured influences and blue-collar diatribes, circled the states thumping the stage like a boorish pulpit monger when Elvis burned down that straw house premise years ago.
Nils Lofgren, obviously, doesn’t share that problem. He’ll never be confused with The Man With The Answers. Neither will McCoury or Grisman but I believe in what they are saying. Their approach appears more humble, sincere, and, tellingly, more appetizing. And ya knowmore power to these cats and their unsung anti-hero number, as well. Having said that, Lofgren’s Sacred Weapon is far from a masterpiece. The backing vocals can be downright horrid, the gawky clichature of some his lyrics can be a bit tiresome and the weird afterglow of “Come A Day” reminded me of Springsteen’s “Promised Land” covered by a Christian rock outfitDarkness at the Edge of Gagsville.
However, the first half of an even dozen tracks float and soothe the soul like timeless chestnuts and everything seems to work from Willie Nelson’s beautiful reading of “In Your Hands” to the accordion-laced stroll of “Comfort Your Love Brings,” the Keef Richardsque pirate lament, “Pay Your Woman” with an amazing Dylan lick cop on Lofgren’s lead vocals to the heart-wrenching dirge of “Whiskey Holler,” featuring more of Lofgren’s touching vocals — equal parts late-period Arlo Guthrie, Willy DeVille, David Crosby and, again, Sir Zimmy minus a thousand cigarette packs. Later on, Crosby and Graham Nash appear on backing vox on “Frankie Hang On.” Alas, the song doesn’t.
The penultimate track on the album and a pure beaut that follows the C(noS)N clunker — “Trouble” — is, however, sanguine as Lofgren fronts a martial beat and a bitter, heartbroken tone on a song dripping with regret over a relationship heading south. And as coda-establishing and thesis segues go, this’ll do, just fine — Sacred Weapon neither stumbles south or points to the heavens. Instead, the songs navigate an earthy, dirty saint landscape seen through seared eyes blinded by aspirations of life on the Kerouacian road. And that’ll suit all y’all, just fine — misguided lizard witticisms, aside (said, in an aside).