Album review: WILLIE NILE , “WORLD WAR WILLIE”

Willie Nile is among the last of a generation of true rock and rollers. He’s the guy that you’d love to hang out with at the corner bar listening to his story telling all night because it’s just that good. He understands people, music and how to give his audience the night of their lives. This man just gets it. Fans of Willie include musical icons such as Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Paul Simon, Alejandro Escovedo and Lucinda Williams to name just a few. When you listen to his music, you figure out pretty quickly just why this man is so respected among his peers.

Coming just 2 years after the release after his piano album “If I was a River”, which was loaded with beauty, intimacy and reflection, Willie is back to his high energy, driving fast with the top down kind of rock and roll we just don’t see anymore these days. And he makes us remember why we all still need it so desperately.

Willie is the kind of songwriter that comes along only a few times in a generation. His lyrics capture the human spirit and the human condition is a way that squeezes your heartstrings and makes you remember feeling exactly what he seems to be feeling. Nile has an incredible ability to segue from reflective and beautiful into a song that will having you jumping up and singing at the top of your lungs with unadulterated fun and joy. He’s a true classic, but one that seems to be getting even better with age.

At 67, instead of getting soft, his music is getting even more energized. World War Willie proves it.

In a recent interview I had with him, Willie spoke about the fact that he’s never had a true “mega-hit” like so many of his contemporaries and that while many of them are now going through the motions or trying to recreate whatever magic it was that gave them that one hit, he’s never been able to sit back and coast. He’s always had to work hard and its allowed him to never become soft. He believes that maybe never achieving mega-stardom was a blessing in disguise, because his drive, tenacity and energy remained intact. This allowed him to grow as a musician instead of stagnate .

World War Willie shows us Willie Nile at his absolute best. In it we are reminded why so many artists believe that Nile’s inability thusfar to achieve real commercial  success is a travesty. It’s inexplicable that this man isn’t a rock and roll legend to the masses, instead of just those in the know. If you can listen to this album without a huge smile on your  face, then I doubt I’d ever want to listen to music with you. Because musically, you just wouldn’t have a clue. It’s that good.

Willie has joined up once again with his longstanding band-  Guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano and drummer Alex Alexander. These guys know how to play together and they know how to make it feel like a party.

From the opening track, “Forever Wild”, the fun begins. This song, full of piano, classic guitar riffs and the undeniable high energy of Willie and his band, it speaks to all of us about trying to keep a sense of our youth. “Sixteen and crazy, we were achin’ to be, we were livin for eternity,”  Who doesn’t remember that feeling? And who amongst us isn’t doing our best to hold onto some of that youth as tightly as we can? Another highlight is the hilarious and high energy “Grandpa Rocks”  Willie, himself a Grandfather of 4, embraces it . “He wears with black jeans and a Clash t shirt, his combat boots are covered in dirt, when he plays guitar his amps up loud, he ain’t dead yet, he still draws a crowd!”

The album isn’t all high energy. Two of its best tracks are “Runaway Girl” and “Beautiful you.” They are true love songs in every sense of the word. And while the lyrics of Runaway Girl are more traditional, Nile’s songwriting ability really comes through in “Beautiful You”.  “Who laughs inside the raindrops and says just let it pour, who navigates my crazy and parks it at the door. Beautiful you.”

World War Willie emphasizes Nile’s innate ability to showcase beautiful and poignant lyrics on the same record as playful, funny and energetic rock and roll. This is a man that understands the seriousness of the world and its problems in songs like “Let’s all Come Together”  which calls on us all to put our differences aside and make the world a better place, but knows we all need to have a really great time once in a while.

The album also includes a touching tribute to Leavon Helm  and finishes up with a really excellent rendition of Lou Reed’s  “Sweet Jane”.

World War Willie is an album not to be missed by any of his ever growing legion of fans. And if you don’t count yourself among them yet, do yourself a huge favor and get this album as soon as you can. Rock and roll at its finest.

Willie will be playing at Brooklyn Bowl in NY on July 14, 2016. Don’t miss it!

4.5 STARS

 

 

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