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Fricke’s Picks: Nils Lofgren, Stefano Bollani and Southern Culture on the Skids

Singer-guitarist Nils Lofgren released not one but two of 1975’s best albums. The first was his solo debut, Nils Lofgren (A&M), a firecracker of fuzz-box rock and sweet-ballad sigh that made good on the promise of Lofgren’s early notoriety with his band Grin and as a teenage sideman for Neil Young. Lofgren’s second triumph of ’75 wasn’t actually released at the time, at least officially, and didn’t even look legal. Back It Up!! Live . . . An Authorized Bootleg (A&M/Hip-O Select) was a San Francisco radio broadcast — a live-in-the-studio gig on behalf of Nils Lofgren — pressed in a limited run of 1,000 LPs, packaged like something on the illicit Swingin’ Pig label and sent to DJs and critics. I’ve still got mine. But it’s finally out for all, on CD, and you need it. With a bare-knuckle band that includes pianist Al Kooper, Lofgren roughs up the teardrop pop of “I Don’t Want to Know” with stripped-back snap and ignites Crazy Horse’s “Beggar’s Day” and his epistle to Keith Richards, “Keith Don’t Go (Ode to the Glimmer Twin),” with extended six-string swordplay.

For the first encore of his New York solo concert on February 6th, Italian pianist Stefano Bollani took requests — nearly a dozen, including “Desafinado,” “Round Midnight” and anything by Billy Joel. Bollani then played them all, climaxing with a whiplash blend of “Rhapsody in Blue” and Joel’s “My Life.” That medley is not on Bollani’s superb new Piano Solo (ECM). Nor is his ivory-whirlpool version of King Crimson’s “Frame by Frame,” which he also played that night. But Bollani’s originals and improvisations on Piano Solo are richly endowed with the same finesse, wit and adventure. Bollani’s ECM debut — a dynamic successor to Keith Jarrett’s and Chick Corea’s classic Seventies piano albums for the label — ends with a slow, tender investigation of “Don’t Talk,” from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, for which no more words are necessary.

The new rent-party platter by Southern Culture on the Skids<, Countrypolitan Favorites (Yep Roc), is nothing but other folks’ songs. Most are nothing like you’d expect. The Kinks’ “Muswell Hillbilly” is decked out in authentic rockabilly twang and the garage-rock organ from “96 Tears.” Rather than emphasize the country modernism in the Byrds’ “Have You Seen Her Face,” Rick Miller’s dirty-tremolo guitars sound like he pinched them from the Blues Magoos. There is much quality honky-tonkin’ (including covers of Lynn Anderson and Onie Wheeler), but the extreme change-ups — like the cow-pie grenade the Skids make from John Fogerty’s “Fight Fire” — are clear favorites.

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