IT'S MILLER TIME
It's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" for Scott Miller who's just returned from a trip to see Superdrag in Nashville the night before. As it turns out, there were a lot of fellow Knoxville residents in the crowd and a night of partying ensued. But today's a new day. And, though he takes a minute to compliment the show he's just witnessed, Miller has other things on his mind, like the release of his first full-length solo project on Sugar Hill Records and a supporting tour that will bring his new band, The Commonwealth, to our Commonwealth.
After leading the late, great V-Roys to a recording deal with Steve Earle's E-Squared Records, Miller and the band hit the road hard and quickly gained a reputation as one of the best live acts in the country. But time took its toll and the band eventually parted ways, each member casually pursuing separate projects. Miller, in particular, took time to cultivate an impressive batch of songs and create Thus Always to Tyrants, the record he's always wanted to make.
Boasting plenty of unpretentious, potent lyrics, the songs on Thus Always to Tyrants come together in a patchwork of sound and story. They fit like a pair of broken-in boots, scuffed a bit, but comfy as can be.
"This record feels different because it's mine," says Miller. "It was the first time I got to work with a producer all on my own, to go with my gut and try some things. That's why I had to enlist the best help I could find."
On the album, Miller is joined by various stellar musicians, including Texas guitar wizard Dave Grisson, Dirk Powell on banjo and bluegrass stalwart Tim O'Brien on fiddle. Great help also showed up in the form of well-traveled producer R. S. Field who also assisted with drums and percussion.
From Appalachian strings to sweeping Revolver-style arrangements, Miller dazzles with a fiery tenor and masterful songwriting. His hard-charging vision comes alive on this intelligent collection that exhibits a wide range of styles and deliveries.
"Originally," Miller explains, "this album was gonna be much different. I was gonna do this whole Quadrophenia thing. I had this idea to take an old song called 'Virginia Way' that I recorded on the V-Roys' second album, and weave this tapestry with it, playing with the ideas in the verses and building it up and all that. But R. S. talked me off that ledge and in the end, I think we came up with a record that accomplishes the same thing."
A swirling string section emerges as the perfect accent for the rollicking "Across the Line." "Won't Go With You" is a fun, tongue-in-cheek romp, while "Is There Room on the Cross for Me?" is, as Miller puts it, the first "slacker spiritual." The anthemic "Loving That Girl" strikes all the right chords as ghostly legions of Confederate and Union dead are stirred on "Highland Country Boy." And there's more than enough proof here to suggest that Miller has done his share of hell-raising with songs like "Goddamn the Sun" and "I Made a Mess of this Town."
What Miller has done here is put together a record that's all his own. The album title even reflects Miller's fondness for history and his fierce loyalty to his native state as Thus Always to Tyrants is Virginia's state motto and is rumored to have been the phrase shouted by John Wilkes Booth as he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
Weaving threads of history with Southern tales and modern day coming of age stories into a unique universal tapestry, Miller's impassioned guitars and emotionally charged vocals propel his signature roots-rock sound to a new level. And bits of Miller's personality, including his love for family and Civil War lore, figure prominently in to the record's lyrical themes,
"I've always been a history lover," Miller states proudly. "I'm a Virginian and we eat up our history. And the Civil War, that's something that really hits home. It was a calamity really and my family was in the thick of it. I guess that kind of thing just crawled out of me somehow and crept into the songs."
A remarkably gifted singer/songwriter, Miller is also undeniably appreciative. As he speaks, there's genuine excitement in his voice and a joyful tone that sounds like he couldn't be happier.
"My dog loves me," he says. "My wife tolerates me. And my neighbors let me be. What else can a man ask for? A good band? Well I got that too. I'm fully aware how lucky I am."
But sometimes you end up with a lot more than you asked for. Having recently explained his strange fascination with manual typewriters to fans via his website. Miller now finds himself with an ever-growing assortment of old-time office pianos.
"It's wild, " Miller says laughing. "People show up at our shows with old typewriters and they just give 'em to me. I've got a huge collection now. I can't wait until things slow down a bit so I can sit down in my basement with a Q-Tip and some oil and see what I've got. Man, I tell ya. You just can't beat this business."
Scott Miller & The Commonwealth play Lynagh's on August 18 at 10pm. Lou Ford will open the show. Cover is $6.
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