Nils Lofgren’s self-titled 1975 debut album on A&M Records made all the right noises for the ex Crazy Horse and Grin lead guitar player - but its 1976 follow up “Cry Tough” really made everyone sit up and take notice (especially for his astonishing fretwork on the title track). But what makes this release so exciting for fans who’ve waited decades for a decent version of the whole album on CD - is the massively improved sound. It’s a new ERICK LABSON REMASTER and is sparkling in its sound quality (has over 900 mastering and audio restoration credits to his name and is one of Universal’s top engineers).
“Cry Tough” was Lofgren’s 2nd album released April 1976 on A&M SP-4573 in the USA and A&M AMLH 64573 in the UK – and this CD is a straightforward 37:02 minute reissue of that LP (Hip-O Select B0013205-02). Released on their own site in September, it received a late October 2009 release date in the States (no UK release date as yet).
The original album had the musician and recording details on the back sleeve – here it’s wisely been taken off that unreadable 5” space and put into a 4-way fold out inlay where you can clearly work out who played what on where. Produced by AL KOOPER, the band featured Nils and his brother Tom Lofgren on Lead and Rhythm Guitar, Wornell Jones on Bass with the Drums shared by Jim Gordon and Aynsley Dunbar. “It’s Not A Crime” also featured some great backing singers – Immediate label soul singer P.P. ARNOLD, BUDDY MILES (of the Electric Flag) and CLAUDIA LENNEAR (who inspired “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones).
The album opens on an absolute high – the speaker spanning keyboards of Al Kooper on the title track “Cry Tough” – a slinky, funky guitar-layered rock gem. To this day the guitar solo in the later part of the song is a truly awesome thing – building, building all the time - it hits you with these fabulous licks and pinging harmonics that literally make you double take. And best of all – it’s five minute duration now sounds just HUGE. Other highlights include the mean sounding acoustics of “Share A Little”, the opener of Side 2 and the drums and upright bass of Scott Ball on “Mud In Your Eye” – so clear. The warmest sounding track is the lovely “Can’t Get Closer (WCGC)” and the only moment of weakness is the crass lyrics of “Jailbait” which don’t sit well with anything. The remaster has also brought out the piano and drums on “Incidentally… It’s Over” and the only cover on the album – Ed Townsend’s “For Your Love” - now has that floating organ bit to the fore, the blistering guitars and galloping bass parts towards the end of the track all sound lucid too – but in a subtle way.
Downsides - it’s shame there isn’t more in the foldout inlay - which settles for what it can get away with - and there could have been some outtakes or even demos. But alas…
To sum up – this Hip-O Select version of “Cry Tough” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a straightforward reproduction of the original album, but it’s big time recommended for the great new sound quality.
PS: I’ve also reviewed the 2007 Hip-O Select remaster of his solo debut “Nils Lofgren” (1975) and his 3rd album for the label “I Came To Dance”. There’s also a TAG above for both Erick Labson and Hip-O Select to see more of his work and their titles.
PPS: check out his sublime guitar-playing on “Shot At You” from 1992’s “Crooked Line” and “Driftin’ Man” on the double 2003 live set “Nils Lofgren Band Live” – blissful stuff