Willie Nile, "The Innocent Ones." The danger in doing a "best of" list before the end of the year is that you'll run across a record you'd somehow missed that deserves to be on that favorites list.
It happened for me this year with "The Innocent Ones," the latest from veteran Willie Nile that's one of the best rock ‘n' roll records of 2011.
Nile wanted to make an upbeat record about the downtrodden. He's done that with a set of impressively written melodic rock songs a la Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen (with whom Nile often has appeared on stage).
But there's some CBGB in Nile, especially on "Hear You Breathe," with its hints of The Ramones. Paul Westerberg of the Replacements popped to mind when I heard the touching acoustic-guitar ballad "Sideways Beautiful" he wrote for one of his daughters.
The record's centerpiece -- musically and thematically -- is the anthem "One Guitar," which calls for a stand for the "outcast, dead last" and rises on the chorus of "‘I'm a soldier marching in an army/got no gun to shoot/but what I got is/one guitar."
It's followed by the pulsating "The Innocent Ones," a song for the knocked down and heartbroken, just one of the album's handful of superb songs.
Others include "My Little Girl," a hook-filled pop salute to someone who just might be trouble; "Topless Amateur," a closely observed edgy rocker about a girl in a strip contest; and the biting folk-rocker "Rich and Broken," another story of a sad character.
Nile's 63, but his high, kinda scratchy but evocative voice sounds younger than his years, and he's never made a better record. Grade: A