The unexpected mid-life career resurgence of New York City based singer/songwriter Willie Nile continues. He started back in 1980 and ’81 with two impressive, critically lauded gritty folk-rock albums that never found anything other than a cult audience even with constant touring and positive press. Record label woes kept him from recording until a decade later, but after one more solid catalog entry, he was dormant until 2004. That’s when the creative flood gates seem to have opened. Since then he’s been on a roll, churning out a batch of pretty terrific if under-the-radar independently released studio and live platters that have helped solidify and slowly grow his name recognition.
Now that the creative cobwebs are history, Nile delivers one of his finest and most passionate projects with American Ride. The disc pools his widescreen urban Springsteen influences with a Petty-ish knack for melody and wonderfully catchy singalong choruses. Boasting confident vocals somewhere between Steve Forbert, John Hiatt and Graham Parker and a batch of lyrically and musically diverse songs that range from the anthemic opener “This is Our Time” to the frisky Stray Cats strutting rockabilly of “Say Hey” and the socio-religious imagery of “God Laughs,” Nile is entirely in his element. The singer’s love for his Big Apple hometown informs the bouncy, near McCartney styled pop of “Sunrise in New York City” and the slightly darker sing along “Life on Bleecker Street.” A somewhat unnecessary if tough rocking cover of the late Jim Carroll’s signature tune “People Who Died” doesn’t add anything to the already definitive original but serves as a fitting tribute to both Niles’ deceased brother and Carroll. The disc’s only ballad is the piano and string driven “The Crossing,” heavily indebted to both Paul Simon’s “American Tune” and Randy Newman’s early work. The radiant “American Ride” crisscrosses as many cities and states as Nile can name check into a folksy five minute running time. A love song to a girl and, more specifically, the US with beautifully detailed imagery, it’s a fitting title track for this continuation of a comeback that’s as sweet and well deserved as they get.
Springsteen, Pete Townsend, Lucinda Williams and dozens of tuned in critics have all sung Willie Nile’s praises. Now it’s your turn.