Willie Nile: World War Willie

WillieNile_WorldWarWillieNew York rocker on a roll

Last we saw Buffalo, NY rocker Willie Nile, he’d stripped himself of his six-string, and sat down for a more introspective turn at the piano for 2014’s If I Was a River. The declarative rock ‘n’ roll of his recent albums gave way to a more conversational style, both between Nile and the piano, and between Nile, the piano and their listeners. Though only a temporary detour, it proved a valuable addition to Nile’s catalog, and a resting spot to gather himself for another album of highly-charged rock. Now into the latter-half of his 60s, Nile hasn’t lost a thing; one has to wonder if there’s an album in his attic whose music is aging away, Dorian Gray style.

Nile’s rock ‘n’ roll was bred in the 1970s, as a fellow traveler of those who fused the resuscitating spark of punk rock with a reverence for the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and blues. He’s played alongside Springsteen and the original panoply of CBGB acts, and the true-believer banner he hoisted with his 1980 debut still flies just as freely in his fourth decade of music making. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t mere entertainment for Nile, though it’s certainly entertaining; more deeply, Nile shares Springsteen’s view that music is a redemptive force, and in Nile’s capable hands, it’s an emotional contact sport.

The album opens with a line drawn from teenage years to elder statesman, but it’s nearly superfluous to say in the wake of Nile’s unwavering commitment to rock ‘n’ roll. Rock isn’t Nile’s avocation or occupation (or even pre-occupation), it’s a fundamental tenet that leads to the only halfway tongue-in-cheek “Grandpa Rocks.” And Grandpa does rock. Hard. But he also takes it down to a knowing ballad for “Runaway Girl,” with lovely castanets (courtesy of Patricia Vonne) that echo Mink DeVille channeling the Brill Building. He breaks down to the blues for “Bad Boy” and the humorous social critique, “Citibank Nile,” and free associates a Dylan-esque catalog of unusual companions for the title track.

The free-spiritedness continues with the rockabilly “Hell Yeah,” and Nile’s love of all things music comes in a pair of tributes: Levon Helm is remembered in the original “When Levon Sings,” and fellow New York rocker Lou Reed in the album-closing cover of “Sweet Jane.” The latter builds to an anthem, and rings especially true as Nile sings “me, I’m in a rock ‘n’ roll band.” Thirty-six years after his debut, that membership, both in his exceptional band and in the larger brotherhood of rock ‘n’ roll, still seems to fulfill Nile’s deepest need. Lucky for us, he’s willing to share his personal fountain of youth. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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