WILLIE NILE - World War Willie (2016) & Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan (2017)
When Willie Nile first appeared on the scene in 1980, some folks seemed to think he was new wave since he wrote declarative songs that were often three minutes in length, a notion that had fallen out of fashion through much of the '70s (the same thing happened to John Hiatt and Marshall Crenshaw for a spell), while others lumped him in with Bruce Springsteen and other heartland rock acts who were breathing new life into traditional rock & roll forms. With over 25 years of perspective, Nile's self-titled debut now sounds like nothing so much as a strong dose of smart but straightforward rock from a writer who is in love with words but doesn't trip over them as he lays them out. Willie Nile is a lean and wiry set, with the singer brimming with energy even when he slows down the tempos on songs like "They'll Build a Statue of You" and "Across the River" or strips the arrangement down to a single acoustic guitar on "Behind the Cathedral," and when Nile and his band opens up on the edgy "Old Men Sleeping on the Bowery" and the witty "She's So Cold," this is great stuff, with literate but street-smart lyrics, hooky and muscular tunes, and a tight, simpatico band bringing it home. If the album has a flaw, it's the production and engineering from Roy Halee. While Halee's approach is thankfully unobtrusive, the sound is a bit too thin to give the music the force and body it needs (especially the electric guitars), and some of the tracks sound more like demos than finished product. Still, Willie Nile documents some great performances of 11 fine songs, and was an impressive debut for this underappreciated talent.
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