Willie Nile isn’t a new artist. In fact, he’s a nearly 40 year veteran with a rich catalog who’s worked the folk joints of Bleecher Street, the clubs and theatres of Europe, and every sort of U.S. venue that would have him over the years. But the clarity, captivating force, and saving-up-the-best-damn-songs-from-a-lifetime quality of his eighth studio effort, American Ride (released June 25), smacks of a particularly auspicious debut filled with roughhewn wisdom, rock ‘n’ roll grit, and no small amount of faith stimulus. American Ride is pure inspirational force, kindred spirit to Bruce Springsteen and Alejandro Escovedo, sharing some of these established greats’ mixture of boldness and intimacy but bettering their over-praised recent albums by being more street level, immediate, and filled with insightful humor as well as abundant heart. More than any of his American peers, the latest from this enduring New York City powerhouse carries on the spirit of Joe Strummer through tales simultaneously tough and tender, the view from the gutter articulated in ways that makes one want to reach out a hand, or at least open up a bit to the shared human condition.
Beginning with a count-off followed by a doo-wop derived chant, American Ride instantly plants one in front of a sweaty, leave it all on the stage band hell-bent on knocking our socks off, roaring, “This is our time! This is our place! This is our moment in the human race!” And by gum, one believes him as Nile pulls us into the present, peeling away the noise to get at what really makes us feel alive, what makes us hurt, what makes us ache and long for better, more, whatever.
God is here, too, but a bare-knuckled scrapper on the side of empty-pocketed outsiders just longing to be free of fear and basic want. “God Laughs” and “Holy War” are simply two of the finest glosses on the Spirit in the Sky to come along in a decade, just the laughter tinged tools we need in this hyper-partisan time of uber-religiosity. It’s fitting this album was helped into the world with a PledgeMusic.com campaign, the People’s Record in a metaphorical sense that jives well with the universalist vibe here, a bushel of hard won hope to provide sustenance for anyone who needs it.
The surging dreamer’s energy that infuses many tracks is balanced by short, sharp bursts of humor and dark understanding, a crucial strand on American Ride perhaps seen most clearly on a perfect, inspired cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” which also cements Nile’s bona fides as a dyed-in-the-wool New York musician, as much a part of that city’s storied soundtrack as The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Dion. From the Ellis Island touched “The Crossing” to jaunty, only in the City That Never Sleeps “Sunrise In New York City” to the deftly detailed “Life On Bleecker Street,” Nile nails down big chunks of NYC’s character in succinctly carved verses.
American Ride is most assuredly a career high point – and a lock for DI’s Favorite Albums of 2013 – but even more exciting is the sense that Willie Nile and his crack band are just getting rolling, a band of brothers dedicated to bringing us through the storms of the early 21st century led by a survivor who hasn’t succumb to cynicism despite a long career that’s seen half-talents and flavors of the month snatch the glory and gold that should go to an American rock treasure like Nile. His able pen here and battered-but-unbowed performances make it clear that he’s far from broken, and he’s not ready to let the rest of us falter either. Amen, brother, amen!
Pick up the album HERE!