Nils Lofgren

Ultimate Collection

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As of 2002 this generous, 20-track, multi-label career overview was the only Nils Lofgren compilation -- and one of his few albums -- in print. Although it's not bad and hits many of the singer/songwriter/guitarist's career highlights, there are glaring omissions, such as excluding anything from his band Grin (especially odd since their last A&M album is owned by Universal), which will frustrate fans and newcomers. Almost half the songs are pulled from Lofgren's first few solo releases, making this a lopsided retrospective at best. While these may be his finest overall works, tunes such as "Like Rain," "Back It Up," and Grin's "Beggar's Day" are absolutely essential to any Lofgren collection, yet are MIA here. Instead listeners get "Two by Two," "Can't Get Closer (WCGC)," and "Mud in Your Eye," all fine songs, but few fans would choose them over the missing cuts. Additionally, entire albums like 1985's Flip and the live Night After Night are ignored, and the studio version of "No Mercy" -- undoubtedly one of his best overall productions -- is replaced by an adequate live acoustic version that doesn't shimmer with the rawness of the original. Since Lofgren had input in choosing the selections, this is a representation of what he wanted as opposed to what a knowledgeable fan might have constructed. That said, there's lots of great music here. A few obscure gems -- like "Empty Heart," "Across the Tracks," the sublime "Girl in Motion," and the Lou Reed collaboration "Life," one of his jazziest songs which features sax from Branford Marsalis -- get much-needed exposure. The melodic rock from his earliest solo albums remains crucial and invigorating in a timeless fashion. It's an adequate place to start a Lofgren collection and, barring a major reissue of his individual discs, the only way to obtain most of these songs on CD. But it's nowhere near as ultimate as the title states.

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