All Out

Release Date: September 22, 2009
Produced by: David Briggs
Format: CD



Bob Metcalf


Nils Lofgren was Grin for all intents and purposes; he was the principal song writer, guitarist and keyboardist and shared vocals with drummer Bob Berberich.  Along with bassist Bob Gordon, Grin made two great albums prior to All Out: the self-titled first and 1+1, considered by many critics to be one of the great lost rock albums of all time (and I agree).  So important an album, in fact, that when All Out appeared a year later, it seemed to be mostly ignored.  I am here to write this review in hopes that you will be interested enough to try All Out, well, out.

Grin formed in the late sixties near Washington DC and moved to New York for a time.  Nils had been picked by Neil Young and David Briggs (the producer) to play the keyboards on After the Goldrush (1970) and was also a guitarist in Crazy Horse the following year.  With his reputation growing and with Briggs at the controls, Grin produced the above named albums, and one more, Gone Crazy (just released for the first time on CD), around the time of Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night (which Nils also played on).  He then folded Grin and went solo, and has had a solo career that has been mostly on the edge of popularity, his profile rising again with his long, current stint with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

There is a lot of tongue in cheek in the music of Grin.  The original vinyl jacket opened from the front and the broad smile lifted up to reveal the same smile without the teeth.  All Out is infectious rock, country and blues, with the emphasis on rock and roll to be sure.  The songs are average length, but jam-packed with twists and turns.  And though the lyrics often contain wry observations, there is sadness in some as well.  This is strong, powerful music with masterful guitar playing by Nils Lofgren.  His style jumps from Hendrix-like runs and power to fluid Chet Atkins, sometimes on the same track.    When the lyrics move to more serious territory, the music follows, not unlike early Neil Young in that regard.

 He also double tracks keyboards, and plays wonderful piano runs (he is a master at honky-tonk) to create a fuller sound that you might not expect of this kind of music.  The songs, about love mostly, make you think of drive-in movies, failed relationships and getting the family car to go out on a date (Heavy Chevy for example).  During softer moments he plays the accordion (his first instrument) with astonishing soulfulness, nice counterpoints to otherwise fast-paced action.

On this album, Nils has his brother Tom on rhythm guitar and vocals, and someone else.  Here is what separates this album from all other Grin albums: Kathi McDonald (misspelled Kathy on the album cover).  She shares lead vocals and does powerful backing vocals throughout the album, and if you’ve never heard her, you are in for a treat.  Growling, screaming and just plain singin’, she uses her strength to counterpoint Nils’ raspy vocals and Bob’s deeper tones.  A comparison to Merry Clayton, the singer the Stones brought in on Gimme Shelter that blew them away (literally, you can hear them exclaim right in the studio on one of her “war, children” refrains), is not out of line.  If you can find it, listen to Kathi’s hot version of Heat Wave on her solo album Insane Asylum (1974) – you will be convinced. 

By listening to All Out, you can hear why Briggs and Young wanted Nils to be part of their projects – a multi-instrumentalist with a wry heart of gold.  All Out should have been right up there in 1972 but got “lost” and was only ever available in Europe on CD before.  This release on American Beat Records sounds fantastic.  There are no mastering credits listed, but I did a comparison to the imported copy, and this is far superior - no hiss, lots of bass punch, and great separation.  If not a true remaster, it is a great transfer that won’t disappoint.  Give All Out a try, and hang on to your teeth!









Copyright 2002-2009 Matthew Rowe.
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212 Frech

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