Loud & Proud/River House Records
It’s always surprising when one travels outside of the Lone Star State and is reminded that there’s a whole slew of supposed music fans out there in the world who’ve never even heard of, say, Alejandro Escovedo. Well, guess what? There’s plenty of folks up there in New York and over in Europe who are similarly shocked to hear a Texan ask “Willie who? Willie Nillie?” when told of a songwriter who is every bit the American master as Springsteen, Fogerty, Petty and, yes, Escovedo all are. Willie Nile been around for years, so if the name doesn’t ring a bell, get with the program and make room for a new favorite.
After a late-career surge that has found Nile, a ripe ’ol rocker of 65, cranking out four top-shelf releases since 2004 (Beautiful Wreck of the World, Streets of New York, House of a Thousand Guitars, and The Innocent Ones), he’s now added one for the thumb with the showpiece American Ride. Nile burst onto the scene in 1980 with his eponymous debut, and was soon opening for the Who and cashing those “next big thing/Dylan” advance checks. But then came years of contractual legal issues and an entire decade passed between his second and third releases. So Nile writes from experience about an “American ride” that epitomizes the kind of career arc — familiar to more than a few of us — that requires sucking things up and rolling through the punches with a stiff-upper lip smile. He channels that relentless positivity in the face of adversity and turns it into surging anthems like “This Is Our Time,” the exhilarating carpe diem chant-along that jumpstarts the album. The journey further showcases Niles’ adroit way with words, wit, hooks, and instantly memorable melodies on the folkie/Americanish “There’s No Place Like Home,” which throws a bone to Dorothy and Toto, natch; “Sunrise in New York City,” which the Big Apple’s travel and tourism folks should glom on to right quick; and the beautiful homage to a lover, “She’s Got My Heart.”
Niles also kills the album’s sole cover, the Jim Carroll classic “People Who Died.” But the real highlights on American Ride are the two tracks that potently invoke the omnipotent one. “Holy War” is a wry indictment of those who do terrible, terrible things in the name of religion: “God is great, but you suck/your fingerprints were on the truck that blew up babies out of luck/God is great, you suck!“ And “God Laughs” is a comical canticle about a day in the life of the Almighty: “God drinks, God smokes, God plans to quit before he croaks and why? Because he’s God!” God, Willie Nile’s both good and great. — D.C. BLOOM