NILS LOFGREN - Wonderland

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Wonderland is a surprisingly commercial work from guitarist/vocalist Nils Lofgren, opening with a very catchy and impressive "Across the Tracks," followed quickly by the beautiful "Into the Night," which has flavors of Bruce Springsteen, though Lofgren's vocal is more precise and radio-friendly than his boss, the Boss. That's the strange thing about the music biz -- when a voice is superior and the music more commercial, it still takes a back seat to personality; listen to any hit song from Neil Young to verify that statement. And take, for example, the only cover here, Bobby Womack's classic "It's All Over Now." Everything's in tune, but the band sounds like it was programmed by a computer and Lofgren's vocal has none of the drive found in his originals. Indeed, he is again sounding like Springsteen on the very next track, "I Wait for You," which has that Springsteen swagger with Lofgren's to-the-point presentation. The excellent production by the singer along with his rhythm section -- bassist Kevin McCormick and drummer Andy Newmark -- is much more exciting than Jeffrey Baxter's thin sound onNight Fades Away or Newmark and Lofgren's co-produced effort, 1977's I Came to Dance, which had none of the snap, crackle, and pop found here. The title track reflects that observation perfectly. Interesting that on both those aforementioned albums the cover tunes are the most successful performances, while here the originals are what work and are among Lofgren's best, with superb sound to bring them to life. The vibes on "Lonesome Ranger" add spice, and having Edgar Winter,Carly Simon, and Louise Goffin adding their voices to the mix on this LP is indicative of the class spread all over these tracks. Even more cohesive than the 1979 classic Bob Ezrin-produced Nilsalbum, Wonderland has tons of great moments, sparkling guitar work, and a groove that is commanding. The key thing that's missing to bring music this good to the masses is an overpowering persona, and it seems Nils Lofgren is just too nice a guy to put that driving arrogance behind the sounds to catapult them onto AM and FM radio. Even more of a pity is that Backstreet/MCA couldn't do it for him, because the artist certainly gave them extraordinary product to work with here.