Nils Lofgren

I Came to Dance

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"I'm not Bob Dylan, but I never miss a beat" sings Nils Lofgren on 1977's I Came to Dance, a very polished collection of nine songs produced by the guitar virtuoso and drummer Andy Newmark. There are lots of backing vocalists. including Patti Austin on the title track. and three others, five years before she would hit number one with James Ingram; Luther Van Dross (with the last name Van Dross separated on the inner sleeve) does the backing vocal arrangements and sings with a different crew on the five remaining titles, including on a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Happy," as well as Lofgren's own "Code of the Road" and "Happy Ending Kids." "Happy Ending Kids" and "Goin' South" are both so quirky they could've fit on an album by Boston '70s act Orchestra Luna, and as adventurous as that sounds on the surface, it is that innovation which holds the LP back. The music here is not as accessible as that on 1979's Nils -- the Bob Ezrin produced album -- or Flip from 1985. Everything is in tune, played to perfection, and without a bum note, but therein lies the problem. It's all too perfect when rock & roll needs a little mayhem. "To Be a Dreamer" is very studied progressive pop, not as ostentatious as the group Yes, but too borderline Toto for a guy who splashed brilliant guitar on music by rough-around-the-edges personalities like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Lofgren's personality gets lost in the "tried to take it serious" approach he writes about in "To Be a Dreamer." There's just not enough dreaming in that title, rather it goes with the flow of the other tracks here; the solid playing and color-by-numbers production making for songs that don't take hold. However, the re-working of Jagger/Richards' "Happy" does inject some excitement into the grooves, a plodding, funky, and very cool rendition with Lofgren's best vocal on the record, surrounded by other singers who take a cue from Jimmy Miller's party atmosphere on "Tumblin' Dice." This final track is where the assembled cast finally gets it -- they cut loose and have fun with Mick and Keith's lyrics (probably more Keith's, come to think of it) never sounding so direct. This arrangement is even more appealing than Randy California's fun and esoteric romp on the Spirit of '76 album cut two years before I Came to Dance. It's not just that this is a cover on an album of OK material, it's that it is a superior look at a Rolling Stones classic with Nils Lofgren being the performer he needed to be on the eight previous compositions. The entire album would have come to life if all involved stopped being so precise and just let it rip.

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