While Willie Nile has been producing high quality rockin’ albums, off and on, since 1980, he didn’t get on my radar screen until his 2011 The Innocent Ones. In my exuberantly affirmative BlogCritics review of that exuberantly affirmative release, one of the adjectives I used was “infectious.” That term partly meant I was infected with the hopes there would be more new music coming. At the time, I had the same sort of feeling I had when I first heard Born To Run. It’s not often I get excited about a new discovery anymore.
I was far from alone. To avoid being locked into corporate label squabbles, during 2012 Nile funded the production of American Ride using a successful fan-based PledgeMusic campaign. The plan was to release the album independently this past April. That’s the review copy I have. However, Loud & Proud president Tom Lipsky heard the album and approached Nile about doing a major label distribution deal. The result was American Ride being pushed back to late June with the first big label support Nile’s had since his disappointing Arista days.
Loud & Proud made a few other changes. The cover art for American Ride was redone. Judging from the track list on my copy and what is posted online, many tracks were re-organized. For example, on the independent version “This is Our Time” is the opener, the Loud & Proud version apparently kicks off with the title song. I have no problem with “American Ride,” but when I heard the first lines of “This is Our Time,” I knew Nile’s new album was going to be more than infectious. By the time I’d heard all 12 songs, I knew this collection was even better than The Innocent Ones.
In whatever order you hear the songs, American Ride features Nile on vocals, piano, and guitar, as well as co-producing with Grammy winner Stewart Lerman. He’s supported by his live band—guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano, and drummer Alex Alexander. Innocent Ones alumni who came along for the ride included Lerman, Frankie Lee (who co-wrote four tracks this time around), and Eagles’ guitarist Steuart Smith. I can’t help but think all hands on board had a great time plugging in their parts in the studio. Whatever life force drives Nile, it sounds contagious.
It’s dangerous to compare these songs with those by other folks who came before, but it’s clear Nile draws from and is re-invigorating a very rich tradition. For example, the travelogue in time and place begins with “American Ride” with touches of folk rock in a light Springsteen/Dylanesque mode. Nile co-wrote the title song with The Alarm’s Mike Peters. “Life On Bleecker Street” has Ray Davies-like descriptive imagery of residents on the street, but the lyrical hard times are belied by the party atmosphere of the music.
Speaking of The Boss, the piano of “If I Ever See the Light” is pure E Street Band in a triumphant anthem about punching the singer’s fist through that metaphorical light. On the other end of the spectrum, “She’s Got My Heart” is a simple love ballad where his lady has her mother’s smile, her father’s eyes, and the singer’s heart. What if God was one of us? Nile’s ironic answer to that is in “God Laughs,” co-written with Eric Bazilian of The Hooters. In a similar vein, Nile gets punkish with Jim Carroll’s “People Who Die,” recorded as a tribute to both Carroll, who passed away in 2009, and to Nile’s late brother John.
With a guitar nod to “All Along the Watchtower,” Nile sings “God is great, but you’re not” in the obviously angry, topical “Holy War.” Up yours, Jihadists everywhere. Then, “Say Hey” does what the Stray Cats might have done if they had more players onstage, including choruses supported by a jazzy horn section. The jaunty “Sunrise In New York City” gets pushed back to near the end on the new version, but it’s a cakewalk of happy good morning music whenever you hear it.
Appropriately, the ride slows down with “The Crossing,” a ballad soliloquy honoring those who made it to the other side for liberty’s sake. I picture Washington crossing the Delaware, but that’s perhaps my interpretation. Finally, everything comes full circle with vivid imagery of the folky “There’s No Place Like Home.” It’s a Pete Seeger kind of sing-along where Nile tells us Dorothy got it right.
Trust me, trust me, trust me—you’re going to want American Ride in your life. Unless you really prefer gray dour days listening to wrist-slashing music only a Satanist would love, Willie Nile is not only the medicine for what ails you, but he may well get you pumped up to go out and challenge all things earthly, spiritual, and metaphysical. Remember that name—Willie Nile. Pre-order it, pop it in, turn it up, and spread the word. It’s his time.