Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Willie Nile: “Children Of Paradise” (2018) CD Review

I love Willie Nile. I love the passion, the honesty, the wit and the spirit of his music. He is able to connect to us on an emotional level, but can also rock us – often in the same song. And after listening to his new album, Children Of Paradise, I love him even more. I guess I’m not wrong in assuming that everyone who reads this blog is feeling angry and desperate and sad at the current political, social and environmental landscapes. Well, this new album may be just exactly what you’re looking for, as we try to make sense of a country gone sideways. It is certainly what I have been in need of. And no, it’s not a bunch of angry songs. This album actually takes us on a journey that, while there is anger along the way, turns to love and ends on a hopeful note (but, yes, I sure do love those angry songs). Unlike his previous release, 2017’s Positively Bob, which featured music written by Dylan, this album includes all original music, written or co-written by Willie Nile.

He opens this one with “Seeds Of A Revolution,” a good and timely song dealing with immigration, its first several lines delivered a cappella. This one has a positive-sounding pop vibe. “The tender kiss that freedom brings belongs to everyone.” That’s followed by “All Dressed Up And No Place To Go,” a song that is so bloody fun. It’s one you might find yourself singing before too long, at least the title line, which is sung by backing vocalists. “The president’s starrin’ in a new game show (All dressed up and no place to go)/Santa Claus is singing out ‘Ho ho ho’ (All dressed up and no place to go).” This song had me smiling, even laughing at various lines like “Plato on a date-o with a beautiful blonde.” There are some dire lines too, such as “The Arctic ice is sinkin’ low… say it ain’t, say it ain’t, say it ain’t so.” But while registering the message in your brain, you probably won’t lose your smile, and all the while, you’ll be dancing around. You know, sometimes it feels like we’re dancing into oblivion. “Where we’re headed, baby, I don’t know.”

“Don’t” comes on strong, with a punk energy and attitude that I appreciate even more than usual these days. “Don’t let the fuckers kill your buzz.” The first time I put on this disc, I kept turning up the volume. The second track demanded a bit more volume than the first. And then this third song needed even more volume. Though my voice shouting along added to it, I’m sure. You’ll be shouting along too. The repetition of “They do it all for the money” is more apt than ever.  This is a great song. Then Willie Nile gives us “Earth Blues.” As bad as a lot of social issues are, perhaps the most important issue is the destruction of the environment. After all, if we don’t have an environment, civil rights and reproductive rights are going to be irrelevant. Here is a perfect, angry anthem that should be constantly played on a boom box by someone following that asshole Scott Pruitt through his every hour until the bastard either becomes human or does himself in. Seriously, who lives near Pruitt? Get this album, and play this song on repeat at extreme volume directly at him, night and day, at work and at home. When you need a rest, hand it off to someone else. “Sorry earth, sorry planet, some people here just don’t get it/Sorry sun, sorry moon, there’s gonna be trouble comin’ soon.”

“Children Of Paradise,” the album’s title track, is another strong song with something to say. “Say a prayer for the children of paradise/Born naked in a world of fire and ice/Sing a song for the little ones/As they blow their horns and they beat their drums.” Maybe I’m mad, but this serious pop tune feels like a hit to me. I haven’t listened to hit radio in decades, but if there is any sense to things still, this song should be popular. We’ll see, I suppose. It was written by Willie Nile and Martin Briley. Willie Nile then turns to more of a folk sound for “Getting’ Ugly Out There,” in which he sings “It’s getting ugly out there/It’s getting darker, I swear.” Yup. This is what most of us feel. “I turned on my TV to watch some news/Saw big shots arguing, spoutin’ their views/Saw a child refugee drowned on the seashore/I had to turn it off, I couldn’t take it anymore.” When is this horror show going to end? When will the healing begin? Every day it seems that the troubles are increasing, that people are getting uglier and stupider. Each step down this dark road is another we’ll someday have to fight our way back from. “If the people ever knew what was really goin’ on/There’d be another politician who’d be dead and gone.” I’m tired of being angry, and I don’t like feeling hatred toward anyone, but I sincerely wish that Donald Trump and his entire regime and all his supporters would drop off the face of the earth. Enough already.

“I Defy” has something of a lighter pop sound at the beginning, but then kicks in with a great punk energy. Oh yes! “I never want to be in your society/You can try but you’ll never hang on a name on me/No, I don’t want to be what you want me to be/I’m never gonna light up like a Christmas tree.” This one was written by Willie Nile and Frankie Lee. Willie Nile then gives us a sweet song, a love song, a song to make us feel that perhaps things will be okay, “Have I Ever Told You.” Yes, it’s like Willie Nile sensed that at this point in the album we’d need something like this, a reminder of the better things in life. “My hands stop from shaking ‘cause baby I’m holding you now.”  Beautiful, right? This is what is going to pull us through this mess – being with the people we love. Holding, and being held. And he follows that with another love song, “Secret Weapon.” “I feel you close even when we are apart/You give the kind of love that’s real and turn it into art/You’re the secret weapon in my heart.” And these lines are perhaps the most important reminder we can hear now: “Bombs and guns, they can destroy when in the hands of a fool/But you and I, this girl and boy, are not here to be cruel.” I don’t want to let my hatred of Donald Trump destroy whatever might be good inside me. It’s difficult. But music and my girlfriend’s hand on my skin will pull me through. I hope every one of you has a secret weapon too.

I really like that line about love being art in “Secret Weapon.” And then in “Lookin’ For Someone,” the line that stands out for me is also about art: “I want to be a painting, I don’t want to be a sketch.” This song, which was written by Willie Nile and Andrew Dorff, has a sweet vibe. That’s followed by “Rock ‘N’ Roll Sister,” a rock tune that mentions CBGB, The Kinks and The Clash. This is a celebration of that woman who seems to be living on rock and roll. From my earliest experiences at rock concerts, I became aware of this person, drawn to her, and I am still happy whenever I see her at a show. The album then finishes up with “All God’s Children,” a gentle song delivered on piano. Yes, he gives us a pretty and uplifting and hopeful song to conclude what is one of the best albums I have heard so far this year.

CD Track List
  1. Seeds Of A Revolution
  2. All Dressed Up And No Place To Go
  3. Don’t
  4. Earth Blues
  5. Children Of Paradise
  6. Gettin’ Ugly Out There
  7. I Defy
  8. Have I Ever Told You
  9. Secret Weapon
  10. Lookin’ For Someone
  11. Rock ‘N’ Roll Sister
  12. All God’s Children
Children Of Paradise is scheduled to be released on July 27, 2018 on River House Records.

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