Willie Nile’s ‘Positively Bob’ Is Positively Brilliant

July 23, 2017 by

Before the catch-all term “Americana” was coined, there was a thing called “folk-rock.” Willie Nile helped keep that genre alive, adding a dash of punk sensibility, with his 1980 eponymous debut album, the reviews of which almost universally made comparisons to Bob Dylan.

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Willie Nile at Rough Trade in Brooklyn/photo courtesy of B.L.Howard Productions

Now Nile has breathed new life into that genre with Positively Bob, an engaging album covering songs by Dylan, who, with an assist from The Byrds, brought the musical hybrid to life in the 1960s.positivelybob

Niles’ own musical awakening is rooted in that decade in general and in early Dylan specifically, so it’s not surprising that eight of the 10 songs on the album date from 1963 to 1967. These include outstanding, up-tempo takes on the two that put Dylan on the map as a songwriter: “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Nile’s heartfelt renditions of the two later songs, “Every Grain of Sand” and “Abandoned Love,” show how Dylan’s songwriting matured over the years while remaining consistent with his iconic earlier works.

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Willie Nile / photo by Howard B. Leibowitz /courtesy of B.L.Howard Productions

Ably assisted by the talents of James Maddock, Bensonhurst native Johnny Pisano and Grammy nominee Leslie Mendelson, among others, Nile remains true to Dylan’s originals while making them his own. This is especially true on “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” (Dylan’s reinvention of the love song), “I Want You” and the apocalyptic “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” which is perhaps even more relevant today than it was in 1963. On the lighter side, Nile and the gang have a lot of fun rocking through “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.”

The official album release for Willie Nile’s Positively Bob – much of which was recorded at His House – Innsbruck Studios in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn Roads is proud to note – will be at City Winery on September 6.