Posts Tagged ‘New York’

Willie Nile: House of a Thousand Guitars

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

willienile_houseNile spins another rock ‘n’ roll classic

Talk about a second wind. Fifteen years after his previous studio effort (1991’s Places I Have Never Been) Nile summoned a life in rock ‘n’ roll as the musical language for his hometown love letter, Streets of New York. Nile seemed to be aging forward and backward at the same time, writing lyrics from the perspective of middle-age and setting them to the fevered musical roots of youth. He was streetwise and urban, a rebel and a student of musical history who could channel the original energies of rock’s founders without sounding retro. Last year’s Live from the Streets of New York flashed back to his breakthrough with a supercharged release party’s live run through.

Nile’s Benjamin Button-like excursion towards the verve and uncensored creativity of youth continues with House of a Thousand Guitars, featuring a dozen songs that capture both the heart of rock ‘n’ roll and the depth of middle-age. The disc opens with a lyrical tribute to Nile’s predecessors that compels his bandmates to sing along on the chorus. The baritone riff that opens “Run” is just one indication that Nile has a universal rock ‘n’ roll fever for the call of guitar, bass and drums. Here again the chorus is catchy enough to sing on its first pass, but the hooks are sticky enough to hum the rest of the day. The rocking continues with the apocalyptic “Doomsday Dance” before Nile catches his breath on the ballads “Love is a Train” and “Her Love Falls Like Rain.”

If there’s a weakness to this album, it’s that some of Nile’s similes are well thumbed, but even these familiar turns are refreshed by the fervor of his vocals, the emotional swell of his melodies and the powerhouse playing of his band. Nile writes brooding and fist-pumping love songs, aware of both the costs and the returns of relationships. The balance sheet on “Now That the War is Over” is more one sided, enumerating with sad clarity the emotional and physical wreckage of armed conflict.  The album closes with an end-of-the-night lullaby inspired by his adopted metropolis, “When the Last Light Goes Out on Broadway.”

All of the promise that Nile showed in his 20s and 30s now seems like an apprenticeship to the blossom of his late 50s. He writes in his title song of a place where “they say there are no broken strings / just some busted hearts and a bee that stings,” and it’s clearly a place he’s not only been living but helping to maintain. Streets of New York may forever remain his artistic pièce de résistance, but with House of a Thousand Guitars he’s served notice that there’s still more rock and roll to be sung. Mark this one down for your end-of-the year best-of list. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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