If I Was A River
River House Records
Willie Nile burst upon the scene with his self-titled debut in 1980, garnering rave reviews and a spot opening for The Who, and followed that up with Golden Dawn in 1981 and then nothing for six years, while Nile battled legal issues. He resumed his recording career in the late ’90s and in 2013 released the triumphant American Ride which cemented his stature as one of New York’s best and grittiest chroniclers.
For his tenth album, If I Was A River Nile puts down his trademark Stratocaster for piano- and not just any piano, but the Record Plant’s Steinway that Nile was using on December 8th, 1980, as John Lennon and Yoko Ono were recording in a room down the hall. 34 years later, as he states in the liner notes, he finally gets to make his “piano album”, and trust me, the wait was worth it.
The opening title cut is enough to put a lump in the throat, and the remaining ten songs will only add to the emotional depth of the recording- save the hilarious “Lullaby Loon” in which Nile dismisses all popular music as rubbish (“To hear the blues is to be in pain/Jazz is just water on the brain/The classics are for the criminally insane”), but other than that, the record is personal, deep and shows why Nile is revered as a songwriter. He looks back in fondness for an old love in “I Can’t Do Crazy (Anymore)” -“Now I watch more carefully just where my heart will go”, and when the record ends with “Let Me Be The River”, Nile has scored a direct hit, somewhere between a listeners heart- and brain. Might have taken a few years to come about, but If I Was A River glistens with a quiet power and grace. Masterful.