Nils Lofgren is a guitar hero who does great work in the employ of others and is wildly inconsistent as a solo artist and vocalist. Lofgren is at his best when he can strut his stuff on electric guitar, so why would anyone want to listen to an album of him performing Neil Young tunes on acoustic guitar and piano? The Loner: Nils Sings Neil sounds like a truly misguided idea for an album, but against the odds it turns out to be a sweet and heartfelt surprise, a moving interpretive album and one of Lofgren's best solo efforts to date. Lofgren can't bring the same kind of fire to his acoustic guitar work that he does on electric, and his voice is a wavering tenor that doesn't carry a lot of weight, but Lofgren has the advantage of recording and touring with Young in the past, and it's clear that these songs speak to something in his heart -- he knows this music, and when he sings he hits a clear and unaffected emotional bull's-eye. At first, it's hard not to wish that Lofgren had overdubbed a bit of accompaniment on these tracks, but let the album sink in and the spare, minimal recording and arrangements work in favor of the songs; the nakedness of these performances brings the emotional core of the material front and center, and Lofgren sings "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "Don't Be Denied," and "Don't Cry No Tears" with sincere clarity, allowing each word to carry its full message. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Neil Young is one of rock's finest songwriters and Lofgren has chosen 15 superb selections from his catalog, but there's more to cutting a good cover than simply picking a good song. The Loner: Nils Sings Neil demonstrates that Lofgren knows what makes these songs so powerful, and he doesn't cover up the essentials with these spare but soulfully direct interpretations; the result is a small and simple triumph.