When We Come To Album reviews.
Release Date: 2003
Record label: Shiny Shiny Records
by: terry sawyer
Some of the best records I’ve heard this year have been from singer-songwriters. While unremarkable for most people, for me it’s a major accomplishment. Admitting this has been part of a baby-stepped erosion of a long held prejudice. I used consider singer-songwriting a musical form of false sensitivity and truly bad poetics, a condemned crack house of a genre. Yet I cannot deny the reality of my running “Best Of The Year” list. From Matt the Electrician to Cass McCombs, the albums in heavy rotation on my stereo are all variations on the thoughtful boy and his trusty guitar.
Michael Miller’s When We Come To is full of slow sway and night sky hugeness. Miller’s voice is a gorgeous stretch, his tone is full of hushing languor and his songs tiptoe at a lullaby’s pace. Like Sondre Lerche, Miller doesn’t have to strain his pipes in order to hold you rapt; they both have voices that sound fuzzy, caramelized, and warm. Not that he can’t belt it out when the situation demands a little pretty boy howling. In fact, unlike Lerche, Miller has yawning gulf of a range, barely a scratch on “Gracetown” and widely bursting on “Smile Priscilla”. But it isn’t his habit to be vocally acrobatic and the control of his voice is wisely reined.
The backgrounds are surprisingly eclectic, employing a tuba, a fiddle, and even a few twitchy snatches of ukulele on some of the tracks. The plucky carnival of “The Ballad of Mr. George and Miss Jenny” recalls the pop playfulness of Beatles songs like “Rocky Raccoon”. In fact, his coy toying with the Beatles’ influence is threaded throughout the album, just as beautiful as Elliot Smith’s slant but not as drenched in suicidal frailty. Don’t get me wrong, I love suicidal frailty, but it’s nice to see someone influenced by The Beatles that can remember what hedonistic tricksters they were.
Miller can be a bit of a bad boy troubadour: talking about getting high, junkie friends and allusions to getting freaky. On “Naked Prayer” he begins with “several times a day on my on like a good boy I naked pray” and ecstatically repeats the chorus “all we need is naked prayer”. It’s its healthy respect for little snippets of the profane that prevents the album from being too tidy or pretty for its own good. His lyrical skills are tight. And I’m not even using the hip urban meaning of that word. Though I could, cuz he’s got mad skillz. Miller is thrifty with his verse, penning great lines like “I’m sick of all these people asking me for direction and waiting for some magic revelation. . . “. He relies much more heavily on slowly shifting melody rather than rhyme to give momentum to his lines.
Those who have rightly mourned Jeff Buckley’s passing, should check out Michael Miller and judge him on his merits. Several times throughout “When We Come To” I was reminded of the way that Buckley could within the frame of sparely plucked guitar, create reclusive little hymns. Miller songs pull you in to an almost meditative depth and recall much of Buckley’s disquieting surrender to beauty. 03-Sep-2003 12:20 AM