It wasn’t always this way, though...Nile took the long road to achieving his relative success. By the time that his self-titled debut album was released in 1980, Nile had already established himself as a folk-rock songwriter performing with punkish intensity. The following year’s Golden Dawn received praise equal to his debut, but legal issues kept Nile out of the studio until 1991’s long-delayed Places I Have Never Been, which included guest turns from folks like Richard Thompson and Roger McGuinn. Nile’s career was subsequently misplaced during the grunge tsunami in the ‘90s, the artist releasing Beautiful Wreck of the World on his own in 1999.
Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise
So yes, Nile has suffered his share of indignities during his career, but he’s been undeterred from pursuing his unique musical vision, delivering some of the most reliably rockin’ albums you’ll find on your local record store’s shelves since the turn of the millennium. Following up on his Positively Bob LP, 2018 brings us Nile’s Children of Paradise, a twelve-track collection that could be seen as the songwriter’s response to the political upheaval of the past couple of years. It is, perhaps, the most socially-conscious work of Nile’s nearly 40 years in the trenches; but there are no morose dirges or dire folk entreaties to be found on Children of Paradise. Instead, Nile infuses his songs with hope and humor, and the music crackles with the electricity of a live power line.
The album opens with the gorgeous “Seeds of A Revolution,” a defiant statement of inclusivity that offers unity for humanity in spite of the “sound of distant thunder,” regardless of race, gender, or nationality. It’s an uplifting effort that spits in the face of our contemporary society’s tragic embrace of racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Nile has an answer for corporate greed as well, the hilarious and very punk “Don’t” offering the sage advice “don’t let the fuckers kill your buzz.” The rockin’, up-tempo “All Dressed Up and No Place To Go” is the sort of Dylanesque tune that has become Nile’s signature, filled to the brim with brilliant imagery and imaginative character portraits.
Nile’s “Earth Blues” is as up-to-the-minute topical as a songwriter can be and is the best song about Mother Earth that’s been written in decades. Referencing California wildfires, melting arctic ice, animal extinction, climate change, and other planetary tragedies, Nile concludes “there’s a storm outside that’s ragin’, it smells like Judgement Day. When the landlord comes to take a look, there’s gonna be hell to pay.” His apocalyptic poetry is accompanied by a fierce soundtrack of strutting rhythms and martial drumbeats. The album’s title track is a mid-tempo ode to lost souls everywhere, delivered with the same sort of anthemic instrumentation as Springsteen’s “Born To Run” and it features a scorching guitar solo.
“Getting’ Ugly Out There” is another dance with the devil you know, a bluesy acoustic tale where “Baby Jesus” is getting the hell out of town and the Reaper laughs. Children of Paradise isn’t devoid of old-fashioned love songs, though. “Have I Ever Told You” is a lyrically beautiful tune rife with emotion while “Lookin’ For Someone” displays a troubadour’s heart and a true romantic’s yearning with its protagonist wanting to “be a painting, I don’t wanna be a sketch” while “looking for someone who is breakin’ just like me.” The song’s use of mandolin adds to power of the wistful lyrics. By contrast, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Sister” blows out of the gate like a nitro-drunk hot rod, Nile singing of a woman who is “a risk-takin’, I ain’t fakin’, body shakin’ meteorite” above a rollicking, unbridled arrangement, the song name-checking Springsteen, the Stones, the Kinks, the Clash, and the Who as it shakes the rafters with no-frills rock ‘n’ roll.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Longtime Willie Nile fans won’t be disappointed by the more topical material on Children of Paradise, most of which is delivered with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit. In spite of the album’s frequent lyrical vision of a world in flames, Nile closes out the song cycle with the hopeful, pastoral “All God’s Children.” The song offers salvation through faith in our fellow humans and (unspoken) the power of rock ‘n’ roll to transcend life’s indignities. Nile’s simple plea of “sing for the angels, sing for the sinners, all of the losers one day will be winners…” provides a ray of light piercing the darkness that has enveloped our society. You can ask of nothing more from the true artist. Grade: A+ (River House Records, released July 27, 2018)
Buy the CD from Amazon.com:
Willie Nile’s Children of Paradise
Also on That Devil Music.com:
Willie Nile’s Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan CD review
Willie Nile’s Beautiful Wreck of the World CD review