If early 2006 is remembered for nothing else, it will go down in history for the two greatest urban Americana albums of the 21st century to date -- Dion's Bronx in Blue and Willie Nile's Streets of New York, a swaggering braggart of a disc that is to the modern Apple everything that Lou Reed's New York was 15 years before. The opening "Welcome to My Head" sets the stage, raising the curtain on a fantasy vision of the city nightlife that sums up every dream Broadway and beyond have ever instilled in the mind of the outsider, and set to a crunchy guitar melody that is as real as the streets that stretch out from there. It might be Nile's first album in six years, but it sounds as though he's been planning it his entire life -- even the songs that slip outside of the city concept ("Asking Annie Out" is the first) share the crowded, bustling air of the more "relevant" rockers, while "The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square" paints the scene so firmly that you'll see him, too. Even more impressively, the backing rarely motors in the directions you'd expect. Fiddles keen and a mandolin pounds, while Nile borrowed his band from as far afield as John Mellencamp and Rosanne Cash. Further captivating imagery spills from "Faded Flower of Broadway," celebrating a primitivist artist who still sells her paintings on the street at 80 years of age and, though it's a cover, a pounding "Police on My Back," purposefully cut in rent-a-Clash mode as a tribute to Joe Strummer, and just as powerful as its illustrious forbear. One song steps away from New York entirely -- the impossibly eerie "Cell Phones Ringing (In the Pockets of the Dead)" was written following the Madrid train bombings of March 2004. Of course, there's barely a soul in the city who won't be able to identify with the emotion that lies behind the lyrics, or the nightmare scenario that peels out around them. But that is not the only song on this album that one could say that about; indeed, if you haven't been to New York recently, Nile might just have saved you the fare. Streets of New York is that powerful. ~ Dave Thompson, Rovi

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