Review: Willie Nile Offers An Anthemic Affirmation to the City He Loves

Willie Nile/The Day The Earth Stood Still/River House Records 
4.5 Out of Five Stars 

Willie Nile is a thoroughly relentless rocker, one who keeps a close personal tie to New York City and, in turn, the role the city’s played in molding music’s modern trajectory. Like Springsteen and Pete Townsend, both of whom he’s forged ties with over the years, he excels at anthemic outcries that rally the masses with full fist-pumping frenzy. So it was only natural that in the midst of the pandemic, when the city he loves and has heralded for the past four decades should suffer its worth catastrophe since 9/11, he would share songs that affirm its resilience. 

Rather than succumb to that pressure and pain, Nile’s emerged with another masterwork, one that fully vets his unrelenting attitude, stark drive, and sheer abject enthusiasm. “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Sanctuary,” “Blood On Your Hands” (a driving duet with his New York neighbor Steve Earle), and the somewhat sardonic twosome “Off My Medication” and “Where There’s a Willie, There’s a Way” rank with the most riveting rockers he’s ever procured, underscored with additional ferocity that came in the face of the lockdown and the crippling effect it had on the city and its citizens. Determined and defiant, Nile makes it clear that his tenacity won’t be deterred.

In that regard, The Day The Earth Stood Still easily measures up to every one of Nile’s preceding efforts—taut, tough, and tenacious, and driven by sheer grit and gravitas, as well as passion and purpose. The music’s motivation is further stirred by the insistent surge of “The Justice Bell,” a song inspired by the late Congressman John Lewis, the decisive stance of “Expect Change,” and the closing three numbers that provide a further source of inspiration—the reflective “I Will Stand,” funk-fueled “Time To Be Great” and the searing, soaring “Way Of  the Heart.” The sentiments expressed in the latter offer an apt coda to the resolve shared in the album overall:

Reach out from the darkness /Step into the rising sun / And remember when you’re all alone / You’re not the only one

Those are thoughts well worth remembering, and they ring with real impact given the darkness and divide wrought by the crisis caused by COVID-19 and the social upheaval that’s impacted all facets of life at the same time. Nile is due thanks for keeping things moving even when the rest of the earth came to its standstill.

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