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DETROIT (Billboard) - There's an odd co-production credit on Nils Lofgren's new album, "The Loner -- Nils Sings Neil." It's for David Briggs, the famed Neil Young cohort who passed away in 1995.
"I kind of produced the record through David's eyes -- that's why I gave him production credit," Lofgren tells Billboard.com. "I've never done anything live in the studio from start to finish and left every rough edge on it. And I needed David's spirit to do that, just like when we made 'After the Gold Rush' and 'Tonight's the Night' with Neil."
Lofgren met rock singer-songwriter Young and producer Briggs when he was a teenager and last worked with the latter on Young's 1993 "Unplugged" session. He recorded "The Loner" in late 2007 during a break from touring with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, based on a suggestion from his manager, Anson Smith.
"He pointed out that the two most popular items on my Web site in the last decade have been the acoustic live CD and the live acoustic DVD," Lofgren recalls. "He suggested I consider doing an acoustic album of my favorite Neil Young songs, and I didn't know about that 'cause I'm a big fan of Neil's and figured he's done a great job of producing these songs already."
Nevertheless, Lofgren tried his hand at stripped-down versions of 30 of Young's songs, separating what sounded "like good karaoke" from those that felt "honest and sincere" -- including takes on "Long May You Run," "Harvest Moon," "Like a Hurricane," "Mr. Soul" and the title track.
"I was hoping for 10 or 12, but we got 15," notes Lofgren, who made the album at home in Scottsdale, Arizona, using the Martin D-18 acoustic guitar that Young gave him as a gift when they'd finished the "Gold Rush" sessions. "I figured if it felt special, just share it -- that's kind of in the spirit of David Briggs, too," he says.
With "The Loner" just out, Lofgren is turning his attention back to Springsteen and company. Fresh off a two-month run in Europe, Lofgren says the troupe is looking forward to its upcoming U.S. run, a 12-show sprint that starts Sunday at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and concludes August 30 at the Harley-Davidson anniversary festival in Milwaukee.
"The band, musically, is in the best shape we've ever been, I think," says Lofgren, an E Street Band member since 1984. "The whole show has become one long improv ... sometimes (Springsteen) changes the first song on the way to the stage ... the set list is useless. It's fun to be part of something ... where a band leader can do that much improv and get away with it and have a band that'll deliver and make it work. So, it's all really a pretty historic run, from my perspective."