Willie Nile: Positively Bob

An acolyte pays tribute to Bob Dylan

Given the influence Dylan’s had on Nile’s singing and writing voices, this set of ten covers is a natural. That said, the reverence in which Dylan’s catalog is held and the lengthy history of Dylan tributes can make an album of covers quite fraught. Navigating a line between sacrosanct devotion and reactionary irreverence requires an artist who’s as familiar with himself as he is with Dylan. It takes someone with youthful naivete or aged confidence to avoid being intimidated into pale imitation. Luckily, Nile is both: an elder statesman whose lengthy experience has never eclipsed his youthful enthusiasm. The renaissance of his career’s third phase has proven rock ‘n’ roll the most potent elixir of youth.

Nile’s maturity and self assuredness allows him to revel in the Dylanesque tone of his voice, proving it not an imitation but a natural derivation. For him to sing these songs in any other voice would be a cop out, and so the nasal tone of Dylan’s originals are heard in these covers, even as Nile’s more sing-song delivery brands the interpretations as original. Like others before – including Dylan himself – Nile takes some liberties with the arrangements, but nothing that loses the songs’ souls or plays as attention-getting novelties. The selections stick primarily to well-known Dylan material from the early-to-mid ‘60s, stretching past this pivotal early period for the mid-70s “Abandoned Love” and early ‘80s “Every Grain of Sand.”

Nile was a teenager when Dylan (and Peter, Paul & Mary) burst forth with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s clear that the power of the song’s revelatory rhetoric hasn’t faded. Nile sings “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” with a zeal that’s not just undimmed by the passing years, but renewed by experience. Dylan’s clarion calls, poetic flights and love songs resound with both history and currency as their joys and ills have come around again and again. Album highlights include a beautiful take on the oft-covered “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and a warm, family-styled reading of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Dylan’s songs harbor personal import and shared experience, and Nile reminds of both with these touching performances. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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