“The unofficial poet laureate of New York City.”—Uncut
“One of the most brilliant singer-songwriters of the past 30 years.”—The New Yorker
NEW YORK, N.Y. — “I made this album because I needed a pick-me-up from the blues that’s all around us,” Willie Nile says of his new album Children of Paradise, out on July 27th on the artist's own River House label through Virtual Label. “The music always lifts my spirits, and that’s what these songs do for me and it’s why I wrote them. Hopefully they can lift others’ spirits as well.”
With 12 bracing new originals and an immediate sound that reflects the artist’s deep affinity for rock ’n’ roll’s gritty roots, Children of Paradise ranks with Nile’s most distinctive and resonant work. Co-produced by Nile and Grammy-winner and longtime collaborator Stewart Lerman (Elvis Costello/Patti Smith/Norah Jones), the album features such timely compositions as “Seeds of a Revolution,” “All Dressed Up and No Place to Go,” “Don’t,” "Earth Blues,” and “Gettin’ Ugly Out There.” The heartfelt “Lookin’ for Someone” was co-written with longtime friend Andrew Dorff, a seasoned songwriting pro who wrote country hits for the likes of Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney. Dorff died unexpectedly shortly after the song was written, and Nile has dedicated Children of Paradise to him.
With Nile on acoustic and electric guitars and piano, the record features Nile’s longstanding live band: guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny Pisano, and drummer Jon Weber. The sessions also featured renowned guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Steuart Smith (Eagles/Rosanne Cash/Rodney Crowell) and in-demand keyboardist Andy Burton (John Mayer/Rufus Wainwright/Ian Hunter).
Nile’s enthusiasm for Children of Paradise is infectious — and impressive, considering how many records he’s made. “It’s one of my personal favorites for sure,” he states. “I thought from the time I started putting this album together that it was going to be something special. It’s full of fire and passion and spirit, and it feels like real life to me. The songs come out of the box roaring and rocking, yet there are also songs of intimacy and tenderness. It’s got all the power and promise of what I love best about rock ’n ’ roll. It’s heartfelt, pissed off, in love, on fire and out of its mind all at the same time. A perfect recipe for a good party and a great album.”
The haunting photographic portraits that grace the album’s cover and booklet, Nile explains, “are of people in my Greenwich Village neighborhood, by the great Italian photographer Cristina Arrigoni. Some are homeless, some are not. They are on the outside fringes of society but they’re all the children of paradise, as are all of us. Cristina Arrigoni brings out a dignity in them that is beautiful, deep and moving.”
The photographs convey the same emotional urgency that’s contained in the album’s title track, a song he wrote with Martin Briley and recorded years ago. It was inspired by the great 1943 Marcel Carné film Children of Paradise, which takes place in Paris on the Boulevard of Dreams. Nile explains, “It's always been one of my favorite songs, and I started playing it again with my band in the past year. There’s a theme of redemption and salvation in it that always appealed to me. What I always loved most about rock ’n’ roll was that it offered light and a sense of hope in an often dark and difficult world, and that still holds true for me to this day. The song reflects that, and it also seemed relevant to the overall themes on this album, so I decided to re-record it.”
The album's topical leanings are further reflected on the ironically playful “Getting’ Ugly Out There.” “That was my reaction to the ugliness around the world that’s on TV 24 hours a day,” Niles notes, adding, “It’s so utterly disheartening to people of good will everywhere, and there comes a time to stand up and fight back. Writing these songs was my way of doing that. There are plenty of decent people everywhere, but with all the lies and distortions told by so many in power it gets confusing and it’s hard to know who to believe and which end is up. But I believe in the basic goodness of most people, and that's where these songs come from.”
Nile's gem-filled catalog encompasses blazing rock ’n’ roll, thoughtful folk-rock, intimate acoustic balladry and even an album of Bob Dylan covers. And while it’s hard to think of many recording artists who are doing some of their best work this far into their careers, Nile continues to seek out new creative challenges and conquer new musical territory. He’s amassed an enthusiastic international fan base along the way that includes such admirers as Bruce Springsteen, with whom he's guested onstage on several occasions, and Pete Townshend, who personally requested him as the opening act on the Who’s historic 1980 U.S. tour. The list of avowed Nile fans also includes Bono, Lou Reed, Paul Simon, Ian Hunter, Graham Parker, Jim Jarmusch, Little Steven and Lucinda Williams, who once remarked, “Willie Nile is a great artist. If there was any justice in this world, I'd be opening up for him instead of him for me.”
That kind of positive feedback, along with the loyalty of his fans, helps to keep Nile going. With more rounds of domestic and international touring planned and a feature documentary film about Nile in the works, he’s looking forward to taking his new material on the road.
“Venues will have to have the fire department on hand when we come to town because we’re planning on burning every place down when we play,” he says. “I refuse to let these suckers kill my buzz. I want to bring some positive energy to the party. It’s all well and good to raise some hell when there's good cause, but at the end of the day I believe in the restorative power and potential in music to bring things to another level. I want to bring some hope to the party, and hopefully some beauty, along with the fire and brimstone.”