Heavy Chevy: Grin’s All Out at 50
How the third album from Nils Lofgren’s early band secured its legacy
Nils Lofgren might best be described as a journeyman musician.
Aside from being a decidedly reliable rocker all on his own (one need only bear witness to his fiery signature song, “Keith Don’t Go,” an ode to his admiration for Keith Richards), he’s served time with the band Crazy Horse — both on their own and in service to Neil Young — and as a prime member of the E Street Band while backing Bruce Springsteen.
Nevertheless, it was the band Grin that provided him with a fertile testing ground, courtesy of a series of albums that helped him hone his skills in terms of both baring his soul and sharing songs of decisive determination.
All Out was the band’s third album, following Grin’s self-titled debut, which boasted such landmark songs “Like Rain and “See What Love Can Do,” and their sophomore set 1+1, considered by many to be their best effort, courtesy of such classics as “White Lies,” “Moon Tears” and “Lost A Number.” In retrospect, All Out easily measures up to those first two offerings, emblematic in the melancholy “Sad Letter,” the fiery and explosive “Love Again,” the semi funk-like strut of “Heavy Chevy,” the casual stroll imbued in “Ain’t Love Nice,” three country-flavored rambles–“Don’t Be Long,” “Rusty Gun” and the title track–and, ultimately, the album’s most assertive rocker, the fiery “Love or Else.”
If nothing else, All Out could be termed the band’s most diverse offering, helped in large part by the addition of Nils’ brother Tom on guitar, adding new depth to the trio that previously consisted of Nils on guitar, keys and vocals, drummer Bob Berberich and bassist Bob Gordon.
Notably, the album also featured Kathi McDonald, a veteran vocalist whose previous experience found her in service to the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, Leon Russell and as replacement for Janis Joplin in Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her wailing vocals added a certain urgency to the proceedings, courtesy of such songs such as “Heart on Fire” (where McDonald shares center stage), “She Ain’t Right” and the aforementioned “Ain’t Love Nice,” all of which propelled the band into new realms of drama and desire.
The original album cover featured a painting of a large mouth bearing a toothy grin, an obvious affirmation of the band’s clarity and confidence.
To be sure, there would be one more album from the band before Lofgren opted to move on, that being Gone Crazy, but clearly All Out found the b and in peak form in terms of verve, variety, drive and dexterity. In a career that’s spanned any number of iconic incarnations, it’s an album that can easily be considered one of Lofgren’s most lingering accomplishments.
And that’s enough to put a grin on any fan’s face.
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