Review: Willie Nile – The Innocent Ones (River House, 2011)
Willie Nile is clearly possessed by the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. Three albums into a renaissance that began with 2006’s Streets of New York, the sixty-three-year-old singer-songwriter continues to turn out arrestingly good music. At an age that most rockers have retired, resigned themselves to oldies shows or simply turned into lesser versions of their younger selves, Nile is enriching his work with age and experience. His voice remains charged with idealistic belief, and he propels his tight band forward as he unleashes anthems, pop songs and powerful ballads.
His latest album opens at full throttle with “Singin’ Bell,” the drums racing, the rhythm guitars building a wall of energy and Nile singing out like a twenty-first century Woody Guthrie. His populist mission is clear when he sings “I’m a soldier marchin’ in an army / Got no gun to shoot / But what I got is one guitar.” It’s a theme he develops through lyrics that gather the tribe and speak for unempowered. He lauds the decency of the commoner and shows pity for the insulated rich, he sings moaning Dylan-esque folk on “Sideways Beautiful,” tips his hat to Buddy Holly for “My Little Girl” and rouses the spirits of 1977 punk with “Can’t Stay Home.”
The album’s last song, a mid-tempo tune that suggests early Tom Petty, opens with the lyric “If memory were money, I would spend every penny thinking of her.” It’s a clever turn of phrase (as is the follow-up “If fire was her daughter, I would drink a pail of water just to kiss her”), but like most of Nile’s lyrics, it’s something more – it’s a memorable expression of a deeply felt emotion that’s turned into a shared with the listener. Shared experience is a hallmark of Nile’s songwriting, and the reason his fans remain so passionate thirty years after he debuted. This album was originally released in the UK in 2010, but is just now getting the stateside push it deserves.