Willie Nile

American Ride

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A hell of a lot has been written about rock & roll singer/songwriter Willie Nile since he made his Arista debut in 1981. Musicians and press alike have sung his praises across the globe, yet mainstream success has always proved elusive. It hasn't deterred him, however; he's continued to issue new recordings -- albeit sporadically -- that have been lyrically consistent, and contain enough deft, melodic hooks, to justify his unrepentant swagger. The recording of American Ride, the follow-up to his killer Innocent Ones from 2011, was funded by a successful Pledge Music campaign; it was to be issued independently. Loud & Proud's Tom Lipsky intervened after hearing it, and made Nile the signature signing for the label's new distribution deal with Sony's RED. This is his first album to have major-label distribution in 22 years. The band on American Ride is his road group -- guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano, drummer Alex Alexander -- with some holdover guests from Innocent Ones: co-producer Stewart Lerman, Frankie Lee, and guitarist Steuart Smith. Nile wrote or co-wrote 11 of the album's original 12 tracks, and all three of its special edition bonus numbers. The lone cover is a wailing version of the late Jim Carroll's "People Who Died," sung in tribute to the author and Nile's brother John. There isn't a weak track in the bunch, but you could stack up its first six against almost anything in this vernacular that's been released since 1975's Born to Run. The anthemic punch and roll of "This Is Our Time" opens the set, followed by the bittersweet portrait "Life on Bleecker Street," with its infectious chorus and a glorious string arrangement by the late Rob Morseberger. The title track is an homage to American music with acoustic and electric guitars, touches of banjo, and B-3, threading country, folk, blues, and rock through the mix. "If I Ever See the Light"'s piano is inspired directly by the E Street Band, but the lyric and melody are pure Nile. The love song "She's Got My Heart" melds his indefatigable romanticism with his keen eye as a lifelong observer of the human condition. The stutter-stop "God Laughs," with its slamming drum kit, chunky guitar vamp, and Nile's strutting snarl is backed by a joyously shouted male chorus. Other standouts include the bluesy rockabilly of "Say Hey" and the poignant ballad "The Crossing." American Ride is every bit as strong as Innocent Ones, if not more so. Nile may wear his influences on his sleeve, but as a songwriter, he's always been his own man. He has stubbornly, even fiercely, clung to the gritty mantle of roots rock & roll; and why not? When you write songs this well, there's no reason for compromise.

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