Children of Paradise
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
There has never been any doubt about NYC-based Willie Nile’s influences. His previous set was a rugged batch of Bob Dylan covers and a Springsteen/Lou Reed brand of streetwise poetic rock has been his calling card since 1980’s debut. Nearly forty years later, little has changed in Nile’s approach other than — at least for this his twelfth release — it seems like he’s been listening to early Clash too.
While twelve albums doesn’t seem like much over the course of four decades, Nile has been on a roll of late, cranking out seven studio releases in the past 10 years, and five in the last six. Perhaps he’s making up for lost time since he took a decade between his second and third discs and another 13 years until the next one. Regardless, his recent spurt of musical activity has resulted in some rousing rock and roll, whether it was 2017’s spirited Dylan tunes or the previous year’s wiry World War Willie.
That streak continues with the self-released Children of Paradise, arguably Nile’s most political and focused performance. His road-hardened band backs him on a dozen corkers, kicking off with an a cappella verse stating, “The seeds of revolution are planted in my heart” before crashing into a pounding, fist-pumping rocker that could have been a Born to Run B-side. The Clash influence infuses the stomping, sing-along chorus of “I Defy,” spitting out words such as “I never want to be in your society/ You can try but you’ll never hang a name on me,” and the defiant “Don’t” (“Don’t Let the F**kers kill you first”), with the fever and fury of prime-era Strummer and Jones.
Nile reaches back in his catalog to re-record the title track, mostly forgotten from 1991’s Places I Have Never Been. Now transformed from its original Petty-fashioned strummy version, it’s a fresher, tighter, tougher attack of a story concerning confused children looking for a better world. A similar theme drives the predominately acoustic, Steve Earle-styled “Getting’ Ugly Out There” (“I turned on my TV to watch some news … I had to turn it off I couldn’t take it anymore”) and the plaintive, hopeful, closing piano ballad “All God’s Children” (“Sing for the homeless ones lost in desperation/ Sing for the lonely ones searching for salvation”).
But it’s the gritty, pulsating rockers like gutsy ecological “Earth Blues” (“Look what they done to our cities, look what they done to the rain/ Chimney’s coughin’ up poison, all our dreams going down the drain”), and the punky garage fun of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Sister” where Nile feels most at home, cranking out passionate electric folk rocking with the scrappy, strutting confidence that being in the rock and roll minefields for as long as he has brings. It’s another prime example of everything Willie Nile does well and this recent creative rebirth finds him in prime form. If Children of Paradise is any indication, he shows no signs of slowing down now.