REVIEW: “Willie Nile Uncovered” Tribute to Willie Nile is Star-Studded Gift to Music Aficionados


Willie Nile Uncovered – Celebrating 40 Years of Music – 2-CD Compilation

There are people who consider themselves rock aficionados but are not familiar with Willie Nile. That’s their loss.

Willie’s the missing link between NY’s own Dion & Lou Reed. I was already a DJ in MA when I played Willie’s 1st LP with “Vagabond Moon,” (covered here by Kenny White), & “Old Men Sleeping on the Bowery,” (not covered). The LP had a roughness, rawness & streetwise grit that Bruce Springsteen didn’t possess since he was diluted by the sand & cotton candy of Asbury Park. Dion DiMucci had it in 1989 with the dynamic “King of the New York Streets.”

Willie had the aggressive edge of Reed, but he wasn’t artistically quite as intense. There were few direct links to heavy drugs & Venus in furs-references. Nile wisely had a good grasp of subterranean cool & walking the metropolitan tight rope.

Unfortunately, like Springsteen & Billy Joel, Nile had career setbacks with lawsuits etc.…but managed to eventually regain his momentum. While Tom Waits didn’t find inspiration in NY & Springsteen is primarily a factory worker-shore driven singer who has since branched out. Mellencamp ruled the rural-farmer & small-town exiles. Nile, today is the preeminent NY singer-songwriter & he’s curb-side authentic right down to stickball in the streets & the game of Scully.

The 26-song 2 CD effort by varied artists pays tribute to Willie Nile who celebrates 40 years of music (drops Aug 21 – Paradiddle Records). Not all tracks are recorded exceptionally but the effort is admirable. And hey, Willie Nile loves it all.

For those who didn’t cozy up to Nile’s solo performances, this is an intro to his work which shouldn’t be dismissed. Many Dylan & Tom Waits songs through the efforts of others have become classics. Some people have to have sugar in their coffee. I like my Nile straight-up.

Quarter Horse offers the tradition of The Band / Little Feat to “When Levon Sings.”  Gene Casey’s “American Ride” slides through Springsteen-land on rockabilly backroads. Jukebox gold in an Arizona cafe.

Kenny White’s piano/mandolin/organ tinted “Vagabond Moon,” is superb. I’m familiar with James Maddock. His “She’s Got My Heart,” cover has his wonderful homegrown vocal style firing on all cylinders. Nile – tough guy image & all – writes beautiful tunes. I like that contrast. Tom Waits has it, Jon Dee Graham, Chuck E Weiss, & Otis Taylor, too.

Richard Barone’s “Streets of New York,” is closest in spirit to a Nile interpretation. The performance is stellar. The mood & atmosphere never miss. Barone gets it. He always did. This has a “sound” Lou Reed would’ve liked had he been able to contribute.

A recognizable melody is “That’s the Reason,” a beautiful Buddy Holly-early 60s melodic style by XL Kings. Willie (guitar-organ) joins Graham Parker for “One Guitar” — another artist who gets the spirit of Nile. Written by one pen these artists put their signature on each & it adds to the diversity that is clearly Nile’s creativity.

There are songs covered by many others. Elliott Murphy, Dan Bern, Jen Chapin, & Lucy Kaplansky. Musicians too numerous to mention are itemized in a stitched color insert.

CD 2 opens with a misstep. Nils Lofgren sings well (“All God’s Children”), but the choir’s bombastic. The song could’ve been intense but as recorded it was overkill. The start was fine (a little Leonard Cohen chorale ala “You Want It Darker”). But then it became a train wreck.

John Gorka & Rod Picott — a Willie Nile song each & marvelous. Richard Shindell having a signature vocal tone is ideal for a Nile song like “On the Road to Calvary.” This is where you see the border clearly. The NY rebel aggressive singer reveals his serious balladeer/troubadour. And Nile’s song in the hands of a Shindell shines effectively. Lou Reed had those moments too – “Perfect Day” is an example. Nile can walk as tall as Richard Thompson, John Martyn or Willy DeVille. Superb stuff.

I guess if you needed a Bruce Springsteen spin on a song without an imitation — Allen Santoriello would qualify. Quite good. Energy, grit & sincerity. The rockiest of all tracks. Johnny Pisano has a wonderfully gritty vocal style. Tight upbeat band with a reggae style. “One Guitar Mon’” features Willie Nile on 2nd vocal.

A delightful compilation by many. Willie Nile has great friends. Each cut created by a different producer. Executive producer: Bill Herman, Tom & Ellen Crawford. CD-1 @ 54 minutes/ CD-2 @ 52 minutes.

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