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Posted: April 29, 2009

New rock, old blues and Rod Stewart

Reviews of albums by Willie Nile, Rod Stewart and a compilation of lesser-known blues covers

Mike Cote

WILLIE NILE House of a Thousand Guitars (River House Records)

New York rocker Willie Nile has been putting out records for nearly 30 years but remains one of those contenders you scratch your head over. Why isn’t he on every thinking rock fan’s iPod?

On House of a Thousand Guitars, the third release since the singer-songwriter re-emerged in 2006, the Irish-American unleashes another batch of high-energy rock and Dylan-inspired balladry that continues to make that question well worth asking.

The hard-rocking title track name-drops everyone from Jimi Hendrix to John Lee Hooker. “Now that the War is Over” offers an unflinching look at the victims of conflict, while “Doomsday Dance” treats the heavy subject of human conflict with biting satire and pop hooks.

VARIOUS ARTISTS Chicago Blues: A Living History (Raisin’ Music)

There’s a long list of blues songs that are overplayed and over-covered – Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” or Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” Thankfully, the players on the two-disc Chicago Blues: A Living History dig deeper. Backed by a house band, harmonica aces Billy boy Arnold and Billy Branch and guitarists Lurrie Bell and John Primer offer a snapshot of blues history from 1940 to the present day, from Sonny Boy Williamson’s “My Little Machine” to Buddy Guy’s “Damn Right I Got the Blues.” Sure, some of these songs are staples, such as Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin at Midnight,” but for the most part, the set list is eclectic, dusting off some blues history that deserves revival.

ROD STEWART Unplugged and Seated: Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros.)

Before he hit paydirt and turned crooner with a series of American songbook albums, Rod Stewart enjoyed a burst of comeback fame in 1993 thanks to MTV’s “Unplugged.”

Stewart was smart enough to realize that much of his strongest work came from his days balancing a solo career with playing in the Faces. Stealing his old bandmate guitarist Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones for a night, Stewart performed a set that featured his best folky moments: “Maggie May,” “Handbags and Gladrags,” “Mandolin Wind” and a few rockers, included the Faces’ only hit, “Stay With Me.”

This two-disc version of the album adds two extra tracks (“Gasoline Alley” and “Forever Young”) and includes a DVD of the 13-track TV performance. No disco. No leopard skin pants. Thanks, Rod.

Rod Stewart comes to Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre on Thursday, July 20. Tickets are $29.50 to $99.50. Four-packs of tickets are available for $90. Find tickets at Ticketmaster.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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