The reasons musicians elect to record full-album tributes are as varied as the results. Steve Earle was buying time for writing his novel when he delivered the tepid "Townes." Bruce Springsteen re-discovered the intensity and relevance of folk music within "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions." More recently, Nick Lowe's catalog was re-imagined as guitar-based instrumentals for "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Los Straitjackets" for no seemingly better reason than they could.
Willie Nile's previous album "World War Willie" was a fiery collection of roots rock that didn't delve far from the approach that served him across 35 years as a recording artist. Inspired by his invitation to perform at a Dylan tribute show, Nile has taken it upon himself to refocus attention on the influence the Dylan songbook had on his development. The results are appreciated and impressive.
Like Steve Forbert, John Prine, Loudon Wainwright III and others, Nile survived the 'new Dylan' curse to deliver consistently appreciated albums to a select, loyal audience. Returning to his inspiration on this 10-song set, Nile largely sticks to the '60s with only a pair of songs-"Shot of Love's" "Every Grain of Sand" and "Desire" out-take "Abandoned Love" originating post-"Blonde on Blonde." Little new to discover here then from a song perspective; one is left to search for relevance within the performances.
Recognizing the importance these songs had on the maturing Nile, it is no surprise that he approaches them with reverence. Still, emphasizing the electric-side of his musical hero, Nile fair rocks across the compact 38-minute set. "Blowin' in the Wind" is provided a full-frontal, garage rock performance, with Aaron Comess' drumming propelling the jam. Given current world-wide political turmoil, songs such as "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" remain relevant and timeless, and "The Times They Are A-Changin'," the lead track, is as important as ever.
Nile was shaped by this music, and his voice is well-suited to the task. Unadorned, as on the largely-acoustic sounding "Every Grain of Sand," Nile communicates a balance of weariness and awareness ideally matched to the hopeful piece. One may argue that there have been enough covers of "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "I Want You" to render Nile's versions superfluous, and you would likely be correct, but that doesn't diminish the intensity of the latter. As the set's least familiar song, "Abandoned Love" provides appreciated freshness to close the tribute.
Necessary? No. Enjoyable and worthy of attention? Resoundingly, yes.