Now that the vaccine is available to everyone, most of us are eager to emerge from the shadows and get back to those things that we missed for more than a year – concerts, theatre, family gatherings, sporting events. Willie Nile, for one, is clearly ready to burst out of isolation and rock the world with his new album, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Inspired by the state of the world, and more specifically, the state of New York City, during the pandemic, this new album features all original material, and includes enough energy to power every concert hall and club across the country. So let’s get them re-opened, gather some vaccinated friends together and head out on the town. And if you’re not quite ready for that, just turn up your stereo, and enjoy some excellent new music in the comfort of your home. Willie Nile plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar and piano on this album. Joining him are Jimi K. Bones on guitar and percussion, Johnny Pisano on bass and backing vocals, Jon Weber on drums and percussion, Andy Burton on keys and glockenspiel, and Marc Jonson on keys and glockenspiel. James Maddock, Joe Crowley and Frankie Lee provide backing vocals.
The Day The Earth Stood Still opens with its title track, a song about the lockdown, when the streets were empty, which was an eerie sight in a big city, an odd thing to experience. And even those who don’t live in a city still witnessed this strange phenomenon via computer screens. Willie Nile uses the title of the well-known science fiction film as a description for this time, and even includes the famous phrase from that film, “Klaatu barada nikto,” in the song. In the movie, that phrase is used to keep the robot from destroying the planet. (By the way, those words were also used as names for aliens in Return Of The Jedi.) Anyway, this is Willie Nile at his best, full of passion and attitude. “The day the Earth stood still, the day the Earth stood still/I saw grown men cry, making out their will the day the Earth stood still.” I remember my first day back at work after many months of unemployment. I left at what would normally have been rush hour, which in Los Angeles means crawling and swearing the whole way there, but there was no traffic whatsoever. It was seriously strange, and this song recalls that experience for me. “The Day The Earth Stood Still” is followed by “Sanctuary,” which was co-written by Marc Jonson. During these crazy times, many people, in one sense or another, are seeking refuge, a place of protection and safety. In this song, Willie Nile sings about a woman who gives him sanctuary. This track also has a lot of energy, and I especially dig that work on keys.
From its playful title, you can expect “Where There’s A Willie There’s A Way” to be a totally enjoyable number, and that’s exactly what you get here. It’s a song that shows his sense of humor, but also shows his heart. Check out these lines: “You may be up, you may be down, you may be a circus clown/You can climb down from your tree, grab a phone and dial me/Where there’s a Willie, there’s a way.” This one was co-written by Michael Des Barres. As a side note, a few years ago, the southern California theatre company Shakespeare By The Sea put out T-shirts that say, “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Play.” So there. Then “Blood On Your Hands” has a meaner sound, with a bit of blues, a bit of anger, with Willie singing “There’s bodies piling up down on Good Luck Street.” Here he is joined by Steve Earle on vocals, and together they sing about having to face the consequence of one’s actions, one’s greed. In these twisted times, when it seems that certain politicians have gotten away with multiple crimes, it is a welcome message. When we hear the line “But hell will remember all the times you’ve lied and lied and lied and lied,” it is difficult to keep from thinking of the previous administration and the man who cannot stop lying even now. The line “When the pauper is king and the king becomes a clown” also makes me think of King Lear. But this song isn’t just about so-called leaders, its theme working on a personal level as well as on that larger stage.
Willie Nile then changes gears with the mellower and thoughtful “The Justice Bell,” a song inspired by John Lewis. “O the Justice Bell is on the way, hear it ring/For all those lost and cast away, hear it ring/Hear it in the alleyways beneath the angel’s wing/The Justice Bell will not be stilled, hear it ring.” This becomes a beautiful and uplifting number, one you might be singing along with before too long, even before Willie Nile calls out “Everybody!” It was co-written by Frankie Lee. That’s followed by “Expect Change,” which has a delicious groove and features another positive message, “Expect change ‘cause it’s coming.” Amen to that. It can’t come quickly enough, but with Willie Nile singing, I have no doubt that it will get here. Willie Nile’s is a voice that I trust, a voice that won’t steer us wrong. This song is hopeful and optimistic. Then “I Don’t Remember You” is surprisingly pretty, though still with a sense of humor. “Your long brown hair does a bob and weave/You wear your heart on your left sleeve/You could not stay but you would not leave/And you’ve got a smile like New Year’s Eve/But I don’t remember you.” And I love these lines: “The liquor flowed like a battle cry/But when you left I was bone dry.”
“Off My Medication” comes on strong with a great rock sound, and a certain punk element, and I love it immediately, even before those surprising opening lines: “I put my fingers in the toaster, stuck my Granny in the grave/Put peanut butter on my cat and in the microwave.” Crazy, but free, right? There is something appealing about it, about just saying fuck it and running off the rails. We all need a small vacation, eh? The line about needing to use the can makes me laugh aloud. Then toward the end, the song changes slightly, with something else to say: “Somehow in this world there’s got to be a better way/For us to make peace and love the order of the day/Put all the politicians on a ship and out to sea/Baby, that’s what I would do if it was up to me.” Well, all right! Sometimes the thing we need most from music (or from novels, poetry, films, and so on) is just to hear we’re not alone, and some of the best songs say exactly that. Such is the case with “I Will Stand,” a song we can lean on, even though it might be a personal declaration of love. “I will stand with you in the darkness/I will stand with you in the light/Take my hand, we’ll climb on the mountain.”
I was ready for the message of “Time To Be Great,” but still surprised by its opening line, which made me laugh the first time I heard it. That line is “Time to be great, it’s quarter to eight.” I wasn’t expecting such a precise time. I love how Willie Nile does such things, crafting songs that can surprise and delight. He is one hell of an excellent songwriter, knowing when a simple line is the most effective. “Don’t be a dope, you gotta have hope,” he sings here. The album then concludes with “Way Of The Heart,” which was co-written by Frankie Lee and features Lee on drums, tambourine and backing vocals. Stewart Smith is on electric guitar, and Stewart Lerman plays bass on this one. This song also reaches out to us, making us know we are not alone in our fears or despair. “And remember when you’re all alone/You’re not the only one.” This uplifting song is a perfect ending to one of my favorite albums of the year.
CD Track List
- The Day The Earth Stood Still
- Where There’s A Willie There’s A Way
- Blood On Your Hands
- The Justice Bell
- Expect Change
- I Don’t Remember You
- Off My Medication
- I Will Stand
- Time To Be Great
- Way Of The Heart
The Day The Earth Stood Still is scheduled to be released on August 13, 2021 on River House Records.