MUSIC REVIEWS

By John B Moore & Lee Valentine Smith

Willie Nile
Positively Bob (River House Records)
In the early '80s, Willie Nile's was burdened with the often-dreaded "New Dylan" label. It was bandied about in reviews and promotional material. He didn't rise to Mr. Zimmerman's status but he soldiered on, releasing a consistently satisfying catalog of raw, intelligent and decidedly heartfelt rock and roll music. Now along comes Positively Bob, the crowd-funded follow-up to two previous releases - the gritty, guitar-dominated American Ride and the introspective, piano-injected If I Was A River. Ironically it's a batch of ten songs written by Bob Dylan. The new disc was inspired not by his initial hype-sticker praise, but by participation in a recent Dylan tribute night at New York's City Winery. Along for the ride are frequent collaborators Stewart Lerman, James Maddock and the core of his live band (Matt Hogan and Johnny Pisano). Just as Dylan himself does on an almost nightly basis, Nile reinvents the songs to suit his own vision of the material. "Blowin' in the Wind" sounds like it was inspired by the C.B.G.B.'s scene of Nile's early days in the New York club scene. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" morphs into a boisterous Springsteen-like exaltation. Even the hoary old "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," typically this critic's least favorite Dylan composition, gets an instantly amusing reboot. Highlights abound but one of the true standouts is Nile's emotive plea during the cautionary narrative of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." It's quite appropriate that the included version of "Subterranean Homesick Blues," is delivered with a loose and hooky roots-rock attack that would have been completely at home as a bonus track on one of Nile's first two albums. -LVS

Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Deluxe Edition (Legacy)
Believe it or not, there was a time when Cameron Crowe put out great movies, with even better soundtracks. For proof, look no further than the 1992 soundtrack to his movie Singles about a group of 20-somethings in Seattle. The record included tracks by some of the best bands from that region, at a time when Grunge was still being discovered by much of the country (and long before folks in the news media gave the movement the kiss of death by using it to sell magazines). The original soundtrack included cuts from a slew of Seattle bands like Alice In Chains, Peral Jam, Mother Lovebone, Soundgarden, Chris Cornell, Mudhoney, Screaming Tress, The Lovemongers (a side projects for the sisters from Heart) and even go way back to include Jimi Hendrix. The soundtrack also boasted two great songs from Midwesterners Paul Westerberg and Smashing Pumpkins (back before the world realized what a jackass Billy Corgan was). As part of the 25th anniversary of this Gen X staple, Legacy is re-releasing this album on vinyl as well as a deluxe edition on two CDs. The second disc includes 18 more tracks, among them, "Touch Me I'm Dick" from Citizen Dick (Matt Dillion's band from the movie that also includes members of Pearl Jam); 6 additional Chris Cornell songs; some live tracks from Soundgarden and Alice In Chains; a Mudhoney demo; and four additional songs from Westerberg. While all of the additions are great, the Holy Grail here is the additional Cornell and Westerberg tracks. Among the Cornell gems is a beautiful, previously unreleased song, "Ferry Boat #3." The Singles soundtrack marked the first glimpse of Westerberg's solo spin off from The Replacements. Along with contributing the song "Dyslexic Heart" and "Waiting For Somebody" (both here on the original soundtrack and as acoustic versions on the second disc) he provided the score for the film. The second CD also includes a never-before released song, the instrumental "Lost in Emily's Garden." Nostalgia has been a godsend for record companies that latch onto any reason to re-release an album with extras nowadays, but the Singles Soundtrack is one of those times when it's done brilliantly (and that's coming from a perpetually cynical Gen Xer). -JM

Modern English
Take Me to the Trees (Self-Released)
The UK-based New Wave band Modern English have had a hell of a time shaking that one-hit wonder label. Ever since their early- '80s hit "I Melt With You" took over radio, thanks in large part to its inclusion on The Valley Girl soundtrack, the band is remembered for little else. To be fair, the group didn't help matters by re-recording it again in 1990 for their album "Pillow Lips." But, they take a big step towards keeping relevant with their latest record, "Take Me to the Trees," their first in seven years and easily one of their best. The record reunited four of the original five members for 10 satisfying tracks. Their trademark synth is still here, but is blended in much better with the guitars and other instruments for a more cohesive, less dated sounded. The band, having decided to forgo the traditional nostalgia jukebox path many of their peers have long since resigned themselves to have opted for a more contemporary take on their music and as a result have rarely sounded better. -JM

The Dirty Nil
Minimum R&B (Fat Wreck Chords)
Canadian trio The Dirty Nil may only have one proper studio LP to their name, but thanks to a slew of singles and EPs dating back to 2011, there are plenty of songs to fill out Minimum R&B, their just-released singles collection.
While the band certainly has some punk leanings, and is on the roster of one of the definitive indie punk labels in the U.S. (Fat Wreck), this collection proves they are so much more than just your average pop punk paint-by-numbers band. Starting off with their first single, "Fuckin' Up Young," Minimum R&B shows the band was ready to headline from day one. Playing loud, sloppy fun anthems, like "Guided By Vices" or more slow tempo gritty jams, like "Verona Lung" or "Caroline" the band is capable of sliding in and out of genres. Some of the songs here are better than others, but even their weaker tracks are still endearing. A fantastic look back at one of the most promising new bands around today. -JM

The Real McKenzies
Two Devils Will Talk (Fat Wreck Chords)
Ten albums into it, at this point as a listener you know what you're getting into with a Real McKenzies' album. Like always, there are plenty of bagpipes, power chords, Paul McKenzie's blissful Scotch-soaked vocals and singalong choruses for days. And if you're a fan, that all sounds like heaven. The band has gone through a sea change in line ups over the past 20 years with McKenzie being the only original member. Most of the current band, aside from bassist Troy Zak, have only been around for a record or two, but the music sounds just as strong here as when these Canadians first crossed the border. Aside from the music being a little less sloppy, lyrically the band has grown immensely since those first few efforts. Yes, they still have a wicked sense of humor ("Fuck The Real McKenzies" is a perfect example), but they build off 2012's Westwinds and 2015's Rats in the Burlap and turn in some great, arena-worthy anthems like "Due West" and the blistering "Sail Again." They also do a nice re-working of one of their earlier songs on the album closer, "Scots Wha Ha'e." If you've been waiting patiently for the past year and a half to once again hear the Scottish bagpipes wail, you're in luck. If not, well "get tae fuck!" -JM

The Band Of Heathens
Duende (BOH Records)
It's been four years since their last record and a slew of lineup changes since their founding, but thankfully little has changed for Austin-based five piece The Band Of Heathens. They still cling tightly to an impressive set of musical influences, from Ry Cooder and The Band to Townes Van Zandt and Levon Helm, and as a result are one of this generations strongest flag bearers for Americana. The band kicks off "Duende" right with the stellar sing-along "All I'm Asking" and keep the momentum up throughout with few exceptions. They take sidetracks off the straight Americana road here and there – like on the solid funk-soaked "Sugar Queen" and the Tom Petty/Eagles hybrid "Deep is Love" – but the band's heart is still firmly in the folk country camp; That's on full display on a song like the pleadingly sweet "Last Minute Man" or the album closer "Green Grass of California" with its pristine slide guitar. Thankfully some things never change. JM

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