Album: Nils Lofgren

Breakaway Angel, Hypertension
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The Independent Culture

With his commitments to Bruce Springsteen taking up much of his time, there tend to be long gaps between Nils Lofgren albums these days. Breakaway Angel is his first since 1995 and his best in what seems like decades; in particular, his guitar-playing throughout is outstanding, a dazzling demonstration of why the likes of Springsteen and Neil Young leapt at the chance to have him in their bands. "Cryin' Tonight", for instance, features a virtuoso display of ornate fingerpicking and subtle string-bending, achieved with the most delicate and feathery of touches, while the springy curlicues of acoustic guitar in "Puttin' Out Fires" confer a giddy lightness of spirit to a rhythm track reminiscent of Hall & Oates's "Maneater". And though he's prey to the occasional bout of sickly schmaltz, such as "Love a Child" and "Heaven's Answer to Blue", lines such as "You wash your hands in my tears/ Walk my heart like a dark street/ In a bad neighbourhood" suggest that Nils can still find the apposite image to fit the emotion when he needs to. Less successful is "I Can't Fly", a baffling commentary on the effects of 11 September, in which the serenity of Lofgren's croon and the soft whine of pedal steel send out odd, conflicting signals, further confirmation of the difficulty that US songwriters still have in confronting that issue. More successful – because more straightforward – is "Tears Ain't Enough", a castigation of mealy-mouthed political inaction on the home front ("There's a moral plague and a greedy Congress/ They won't stop the drugs or the flyin' lead") featuring some frisky interplay between Nils and he bluegrass fiddler Richie Simpkins.