Willie Nile “House Of A Thousand Guitars” (River House Records) * * * * (four stars out of five)
One of the things I can never get my head around is how Willie Nile has managed to fly so far under the radar for his entire career. He’s a terrific songwriter and top-notch live performer who was “this close” to fame and fortune in the early 80’s, even earning himself a sweet spot opening for the Who way back when. His first two LPs won critical raves, and then he fell out of the public eye, not to be heard from again until his 1991 classic LP, “Places I Have Never Been.” An EP followed a year later, and then he dropped from sight again.
Thankfully, the last ten years have seen Willie release three studio albums (not to mention two live albums), beginning with 1999’s “Beautiful Wreck Of The World.” “Streets Of New York” followed in 2006, and this year we’ve been blessed with the terrific “House Of A Thousand Guitars.” Willie’s albums always start off with a rousing rocker, and this latest disc is no exception. The title track kicks things off, name checking Hendrix, Dylan, and Muddy Waters, to name a few. Top it off with what sounds like a bar full of guys chiming in on the refrain and you can’t help but sing along at the top of your lungs. It’s classic Willie, celebrating the joy of rock and roll with his trademark sense of wonder and whimsy.
The disc chugs along with two more rockers, Run and Doomsday Dance, the latter about dancing the night away during the apocalypse.
I’ll take your bony hand you’re gonna shake your hips
I’m gonna squeeze you tight kiss your apocalypse
There’ll be a body count we’re gonna watch it rise
The folks at CNN they won’t believe their eyes
We’ll do the dead man’s twist this is our last chance
Down at the Doomsday Dance
If this is what the end of the world is gonna sound like, bring it on – if Willie has his way, we will go out rockin’.
The disc falters only once – the ballad Touch Me doesn’t hold up to the rest of the batch, which includes standouts Love Is A Train, Now That The War Is Over, and When The Last Light Goes Out On Broadway. But nowhere on the disc does Willie shine brighter than on the hopeful Give Me Tomorrow. Despite a laundry list of life’s horrors, the singer reminds us that things can get better as he looks forward to a new day.
I’ve seen poison in the waters
Heard the cryin’ of the sea
I have heard your sons and daughters
- Sayin’ “What’s to become of me”
- I’ve seen hunger in the garden
- I’ve seen empty eyes full of pain
- O but I have seen things change
- Give me tomorrow…
Willie’s earnest and persistent vocal urges us to keep on keepin’ on. You do the same, brother, you do the same.