Coming just two years after If I Was a River, Willie Nile continues his late career renaissance with a series of no-nonsense cuts that are consistently better than they really have a right to be. Sure, Nile will borrow a move here or a whoop there but that’s what rock ‘n’ roll has always been about and when Nile steals he steals bigger and better than you can imagine. And what is true Willie, what is unmistakably his own, his ability to make believers out of us all, no matter the story he’s telling, no matter the song he’s singing.
The best example is “Trouble Down in Diamond Town”, a cinematic track that stands up there with the best balladeering of Springsteen and calls to mind the small town frustrations chronicled in David & David’s mid-’80s classic “Boomtown”. At the end of the song, you don’t know whether you’ve just sat through a single episode or an entire season of some heartwrenching television series or have been gripping the pages of a well-worn novel. That’s Nile in a nutshell but it isn’t all that he does.
He’ll take you on a trip down the means streets of suburbia to introduce you to a character who’s become more prevalent in the last few years (“Grandpa Rocks”) over a setting that calls to mind the Romantics. He’ll make you laugh there and in “Citibank Nile”. But just as often and maybe even more so he can make you cry and think. Witness the love story behind “Runaway Girl” (here come those Dylan comparisons again) or the haunting, tear-inspiring “When Levon Sings”. Eac of the details in that tune, by the way, is true although many have said it before Nile brought it to our attention no one has been able to say it the way he did. Elsewhere, “Beautiful You” and “World War Willie” continue the traditions he established more than 30 years ago now.
They don’t make rockers like Nile anymore and there are only a few of these guys left. Nile, Peter Wolf and a handful of others are there waiting for a younger generation to discover them and embrace them and see once and for all how truth speaks through rock ‘n’ roll. Sure, someone will make the argument that Bruce has been doing that just fine but the Boss doesn’t have the same rough edges, doesn’t feel like a character you just met down at the corner bar or corner garage even though he sings about ‘em enough.
Nile didn’t have to bring Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” to the part but the fact is that Reed, too, is a kind that is now forever gone, a type that rock ‘n’ roll created and that rock ‘n’ roll ultimately took away. Nile is now nearly 70 and although there are indications that he’s not slowing down, we shouldn’t be slow to get out and see him in the live arena — a place he’s known to take what he does best to its logical extreme. Buying and absorbing the records won’t hurt, of course. In fact, they’ll make so much about life on this big rock all the more tolerable. God bless Willie Nile and God bless rock ‘n’ roll.