A songwriter and his influences
Reviewed May 2009
House of a Thousand Guitars
By Willie Nile
Gb Music/River House: 2009
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
"House of a Thousand Guitars" is the tenth album by rocker Willie Nile, who has been on the scene since 1980 and has performed with Ringo Starr, Ian Hunter, Elvis Costello and shared the stage with Springsteen’s E Street band. His 2006 disc "Streets of New York" garnered quite a bit of attention for the singer/songwriter. For "House of a Thousand Guitars," Willie brings on big production on several of the cuts, his backing band sounds as big as the E Street crew. Maybe not a thousand guitars in the studio, but plenty.
Nile is a good songwriter, no question. The tunes on the disc are almost uniformly catchy pop and rockers, radio friendly and well-produced. However, if there is such a thing as wearing influences on one's sleeve, Nile is guilty in his vocals and the general approach on a number of the tunes.
The opener and title cut is, unfortunately, perhaps the weakest on the disc, and features Nile doing an imitation-Dylan vocal (in "Rainy Day Women" mode) that may drive many people to hit "stop" on their CD players. Fortunately for those who don't, things get much better with the rocker "Run," which could easily be mistaken for a Tom Petty B-side. "Doomsday Dance" keeps things moving in Petty mode with clever lyrics about the apocalypse. "Love is a Train" is a slower rocker, Springsteen style, and Nile again uses Bob D. inflections in every word, affectations that call attention to themselves at the expense of the well-written tune.
"Her Love Falls Like Rain" follows, a light harmony Beatles-flavored song that is catchy as hell, this time with Nile singing just like George Harrison. "Give Me Tomorrow" is another nod to the Boss, with a big buildup and a "na-na-na" chorus. "Magdalena" rocks hard as well, has a memorable chorus and is a disc highlight that overcomes Nile's vocal mannerisms. For "Touch Me," it's Nile on piano with orchestral backing on a ballad, and shows that when he doesn't try to sound like Dylan he can sing pretty well. Things get back to rocking with "The Midnight Rose," again along the lines of a Springsteen opus. As with the earlier "Train" and "Tomorrow," he can write a good tune, but doesn't have the throaty vocal to pull off the whole effect it is Boss Lite.
This is one of those albums that gets better with repeat listenings, and other than the opener, really has no throwaways. The vocals take some getting used to, no question, and one gets the impression that some of these tunes will end up being covered by other artists especially “"Love is a Train," "Magdalena" and maybe the closer, the lush ballad "When the Last Light Goes Out on Broadway." To give Nile his due, these are among the catchiest and best written songs to come along in quite a while.
Review by Frank Kocher, a longtime San Diego resident, musician, music collector and frequent contributor to The San Diego Troubadour.