Those of you who have followed Scott Miller’s career since his days with The V-Roys probably did what we did and grabbed his latest CD at your first opportunity. It’s a worthy successor to his previous albums with the Commonwealth: "Thus Always to Tyrants" and the not quite as strong but still good "Upside Downside."
For those of you who don’t know, Miller has been playing around Knoxville and the Southeast, mainly, since the mid-90s. His former band, The V-Roys, was an under-appreciated alt-country gem with 2 albums and an EP produced by Steve Earle on his now defunct E-Squared record label as well as a posthumous live album.
Miller’s new disc, "Citation" (Sugar Hill Records) was produced by Jim Dickinson – the same guy who produced "Pleased To Meet Me" for the Replacements. The whole production thing apparently didn’t happen in the usual way for Miller. Miller, it turns out, is kind of an intense guy. Dickinson, it turns out, not so much. It turns out to be a good combination. This CD is more spontaneous, less studied than the previous two.
The Commonwealth, this time around, is Shawn McWilliams (drums, vocals), Eric Fritsch (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Jeremy PenneBaker (bass, vocals), and Reba Russell (vocals). Miller plays the hell out of several guitars, blows some mean harp, and gets the songwriting credit save the Neil Young cover and "The Only Road" which he co-wrote with Brad Henderson and Mic Harrison (his former V-Roy bandmate).
And, if you follow Miller, you won’t be surprised to encounter a song about Sam Houston. Miller likes his history. He’s got a couple songs that touch on war – the current one and some from the past. One song he borrowed from Neil Young, "Hawks and Doves". Good choice. One of the most rocking as well as most amusing songs on the disc is "Jody," sort of a twist on the old story about a guy who’s been shipped out and his best friend has moved in on his wife. That one, musically and lyrically, will take you back to his V-Roys days.
The second track, "Freedom’s A Stranger," perfectly captures those hot summer nights spent in whatever car you could find, blasting your eight track tape player, feeling like you might be free, doing stuff you didn’t want your parents to find out about (as Miller alludes to on his website — well, Scott, now they know). It also captures that wry feeling most of us have when we look at ourselves and see how far we’ve come from those days. And there’s a nice nod to Bruce Springsteen who pretty much defined many of our summer nights, in the lyrics ( ‘If the Boss had been a preacher/ he coulda led us to the Lord" as well as the organ and that last harmonica riff.
I didn’t really cotton to "8 Miles A Gallon" until I cranked it up to an earsplitting level. You kinda have to do that to appreciate the gravelly throbbing bass (I know it’s a cliche but there’s a reason people like to talk about a throbbing bass. Okay, maybe a couple reasons). This one makes you nostalgic for that old 8 track tape player blaring Golden Earring.
There is a lot going on in a Scott Miller disc. Every time you listen to "Citation", you’ll hear something different. That’s not a bad feature. And it’s one we’ve come to expect from Scott Miller.