WILLIE NILE UNCOVERED
Passion Is No Ordinary Word When it Comes To Our Favourite New Yorker.
Me? I’m a newcomer and have only been a fan of Willie Nile for …….. phew …….. 15 years? 16 years?
In the 1980’s he was a stalwart of the CBGB’s ‘scene’ but never had that ‘hit single’ that many of his contempories had; and although he released a couple of ‘critically acclaimed’ albums he never really troubled the chart compilers.
Then; leap forward to the cusp of the 21st Century, and our favourite Noo Yawker; songs and guitar in hand decided to have another go ……….
Which brings us to this wonderful homage to one of my generations best yet generally un-feted songwriters.
What better way to start such a collection than with ‘fan favourite’ Hell Yeah! But; what’s this?
It’s been disseminated slightly; but Emily Duff still manages to stir the emotions with her very own passionate and l.o.u.d rendition, that runs the original a good race.
Some songs that follow are straight ‘covers’ of Willie’s enigmatic and often poignant Rock & Roll songs; but as is my won’t I love the twisted and left of centre versions that simply prove what a great songwriter Willie Nile is.
Kenny White makes Vagabond Moon sound as if it was always meant to be played in a smoky nightclub at two in the morning; and Dan Bern’s New Wavey/Indie turnaround of Life on Bleecker Street is both charming and anthemic in equal measure; then when Leland Sundries strips The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square back to some kind of Americana passion play, I was left stunned ……. and the occasional Bo Diddley ‘beat’ does it no harm either.
Obviously there are going to be surprises around every corner; Richard Barone? Gene Casey?
Never heard of ’em; but both are simply outstanding with great voices; Barone’s take on Streets of New York makes it sound young, fresh and even ‘Indie’; and the way Casey turns American Ride into a Springsteen epic, that wouldn’t have been out of place on Western Stars.
This is still only album #1 btw; and while every track is well worth your time; two especially have captured my heart ……… Graham Parker belting out One Guitar offers no surprises to me; as it’s a marriage made in Heaven; but when (another new name to RMHQ) Quarter Horse reinvent themselves as The Band to sing When Levon Sings, my heart actually skipped a couple of beats …….. and did anyone ever write a finer verse than:
“Born on a farm down in Arkansas
Best damn singer that you ever saw
Now he’s keeping time with the man upstairs
When the lightning cracks that’s Levon’s snare
The lightning cracks that’s Levon’s snare!“
Then, of course there’s the second album!
WOW! Is that Nils Lofgren?
Yes indeed; it is he who starts this side with a Gospel version of the already beautiful All God’s Children (Gonna Sing) all done in Lofgren’s own inimitable manner …….. simply stunning.
There’s a crazy juxtaposition by following this with Caroline Doctorow singing Lonesome Dark Eyed Beauty in the most fragile and beautiful manner; and yet again proving Nile’s songs are Classics waiting to be discovered.
As I already know every song here and associate them with Willie’s world weary and often angry voice; it’s been a genuine pleasure hearing them re-interpreted for a female voice; and indeed perspective.
Which happens again with Jen Chapin’s intricate singing of The Crossing and Lucy Kaplansky singing When The Lights Go Out on Broadway; makes Nile sound like a great lost American poet.
If you already know Willie Nile’s work, you too will have been wondering who will be covering House of a Thousand Guitars ….. and how.
Well; it’s someone called Allen Santoriello; and while still paying reverence to the original (warbling geetaahhhrs!) he turns it into one hell of a Honky Tonker! This could only have been bettered in this style if it had been Hank Jr.
Again; for Nile’s devotees ……. there’s a lovely little ‘Easter egg’ with the album closing with long time cohort; and the handsomest man in Rock and Roll; Johnny Pisone who goes back to One Guitar and gives it a Reggae riff ……. not foe the purist; but I’ve grown to love it over the last few weeks ….. especially when the sun was shining.
Just like Album #1 a couple of songs jumped out at me the first time I played them; the beautiful love song Sideways Beautiful has been a firm favourite ever since I first heard it on The Innocent Ones in 2010; and when sung by RMHQ Favourite Slaid Cleaves, I welled up and made Mrs Magpie stop doing what she was doing to listen.
She did; and smiled at me.
It’s that type of song.
Another Friend of RMHQ, Rod Picott then strips Lookin’ For Someone into what may become one of Americana’s finest ballads, with a stinging pedal-steel in the background; which I doubt Willie ever intended or thought about.
I’ve physically forced myself not t select any of those as my Favourite Song; although they would certainly be worthy; but I’m going slightly left of centre and selecting a singer, whom I’ve not heard of as he has turned a great piano ballad inside out and made it into a Folk Song that defies the aging process; John Gorka and his wonderful version of I Don’t Do Crazy Anymore.
Both powerful and beautiful …….. oh; and tear inducing too.
Personally I’ve always thought Willie Nile to be a great songwriter; but didn’t realise that so many other people, especially so many other esteemed singer-songwriters did too.
One of the great joys here is that Willie Nile’s fans (like me) have the opportunity to discover some great new acts; plus the fans of those acts can now discover the genius of Willie Nile too.
Released August 21st 2020
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