Hurple Hoopla

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Scott Miller - Citation

Scott Miller first made his mark in the recording industry as one-fourth of the Knoxville based, Steve Earle produced V-Roys. I wrote them up in an earlier post, here. (Trust me, it's on that page... somewhere) Following that band's demise Scott Miller began work on his first solo album, Thus Always To Tyrants, with producer R S Field.

The first thing I thought after hearing that album for the first time was, "V-Roys who?" Really, the set is the perfect blend of all the things that Miller does best, from flat out rock 'n' roll to acoustic ballads. The beauty of Scott Miller's music lies in a mix of his lyrics, he's unbelievably good at creating a connection within each song between the characters and their environment such that the listener immediately builds a strong emotional attachment to the situations explored in the song, and his voice, which he can transform from a ragged howl to folksy smoothness at the drop of a dime. Overall some of the best material he's ever recorded is on this album. Highlights: "Across The Line," "I Made A Mess of This Town," "I Won't Go With You," "Dear Sarah," "Absolution," "Goddamn The Sun," and "Is There Room on the Cross For Me?"

For his next album,Upside Downside, Miller internalized everything. All production was handled by Miller and his band The Commonwealth. While the album sounded more homemade and much rawer than anything he'd done yet, it was another fine project. Highlights: "Raised By The Graves," "Second Chance," "Amtrak Crescent," "Ciderville Saturday Night," and "Red Ball Express."

As I wrote in an earlier post, Scott Miller is probably my favorite current musical artist, of any genre, out there kickin' and screaming these days. His newest release does nothing to change that, even though there seems to be something missing. Somewhere, somehow the spark of pure, unbridled energy that Miller brings to everything he touches is diminished (but not missing entirely). After giving the album a few listens, I think the fault lies in the spot-perfect production by Jim Dickinson. It sounds like he wanted to make a more cohesive album out of Miller's material than has been done before, so he toned down Miller's "rocking" moments and pushed Miller's "acoustic" moments. Unfortunately, it's the dichotomy of Miller's songs (following a loud, brash rock 'n' roll number with a traditional-sounding Civil War era ballad like on Thus Always To Tyrants, for example) that makes him such a singular, exciting artist.

Regardless, this is a great album full of great material. When my main complaint is that he covered the wrong Neil Young song (he covers "Hawks And Doves" which is good, but "Walk On" is a highlight of his live performances when he pulls it out), then is definitely an artistic success. Highlights: "Wild Things," "8 Miles A Gallon," "Jody," and "Long Goodnight."

And in case Miller ever reads this himself: When the hell are you going to release "The Rain" on a proper album, instead of just the self-pressed one sold at live shows?


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