Monday, June 26, 2017

Willie Niles - Positively Bob - Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan (2017, River House) - A brief overview

Willie’s in the basement mixing up the medicine…but is this ten-song fix as crucial as it seems?  Was talking to a friend the other who's a keen aficionado of both Bob Dylan and Willie Nile.  After playing him a few cuts from Positively Bob, I cornered him with a pretty straightforward inquiry.  Going into this particular album, would it be more beneficial to have a greater appreciation of Bob or Willie?  Without hesitation he replied, Mr. Nile.

Before we get to the "why," let's take into account a couple of parallels between these renown singers/songwriters.  True, both sport an amazing tussle of hair, but less superficially these gentleman have spent nearly the entirety of their adulthood carving out a coveted niche for themselves, both as literary songsmiths and arresting performers.   I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that one has a tad more feathers in his respective cap, but I'd like to think you can discern which for yourselves.

My absorption of Willie Nile is/was relatively minimal, however the "Dylan quotient" in albums like his self-titled 1980 effort is abundantly evident.  In fact, he's probably been slapped with the "New Dylan" tag at numerous junctures in his four decade career.  Niles' delivery and meter may differ from Robert Zimmerman's yet there's a none-too dissimilar weathered tone to his timbre, not to mention an earthy wit and wisdom, making a Dylan tribute album if not inevitable at the very least entirely appropriate.   

Will Nile Sings Bob Dylan is what it's title suggests - no more, no less. The first half (and the some) focuses in on readings of Bob's most renown titles.  An unfussed with "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" is conveyed with the type of reverence you might expect.  To the contrary, Nile's iterations of  "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Rainy Day Women #12 & #35" are given a Basement Tapes-y treatment, even more rollicking and jovial than the originals.  "...Blowin' in the Wind" is present as well, and a decidedly uptempo version at that, threatening to eschew that classic's contemplative tenor almost entirely.  As things wind to a close, Nile turns his attention to deeper Dylan cuts - "Every Grain of Sand" and "Abandoned Love" among them, tossing a well played bone to more discriminating ears. 

Going back to my original premise, for the utmost appreciation of Positively Bob, who does it pay to have a greater investment in, The Bard or Willie?  Maybe my friend was on the right wavelength of settling on the latter, but if you regard yourself a serious fan of either you'll walk away a winner here.
Positively Bob is available as we speak straight from Niles' online store, Amazon and iTunes.

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