April 1, 2017
Lostbrook 2.0 Volume 199
Opened For Rodney Crowell (Vol 198)
Source: Church Audio CAFS>SPSB-12>Sony M10(24/48)
Location: 25' from stage, right of center
Transfer: Sony M10>Micro SDHC>PC>Sound Forge 10>WAV 16/44.1>
Trader's Little Helper>FLAC(level 8)
01 How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me? (4:29)
02 Lie I Believe (4:55)
03 Lo Siento, Spanishburg, West Virginia (4:17)
04 Bastard's Only Child (4:12)
05 Angels Dwell (4:38)
06 Amtrak Crescent (5:14)
07 Ten Miles Down The Nine Mile Road (4:54)
08 Freedom�s A Stranger (5:36)
09 Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring > Someday Sometime (4:30)
Scott Miller: acoustic guitars, harmonica, vocals
Great songwriters tell stories and make observations so cleverly and precisely that they are almost presenting universal truths when successful with their work. Just as an interesting photograph presents a unique point of view, they paint pictures with words that listeners see in their minds' eyes. We were at The Hamilton to hear one of the best songwriters ever, Rodney Crowell, and, while unfamiliar with Scott Miller, we figured that the bar was pretty high for him to make the cut as Rodney's opening act and we weren't disappointed.
Quietly and somewhat shyly shuffling out to the microphone, Miller strummed his guitar a few times announcing his presence and began to sing How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me? from his 2013 Big Big World album. It is a clever ditty with the narrator questioning his existence: "How am I ever gonna be me? When I'm not who I'm supposed to be, A mother's son, a father's boy, A brother's friend, a sister's joy, An uncle cool, a cousin true, And who knows a father too, A shy recluse who once shot in, A patriot, a citizen, How was I born a mystery, How am I ever gonna be me."
"I write songs and sing 'em and raise cows and sell 'em...I'm good at one of 'em," he said at its conclusion. An engaging and quite humorous performer, as well as being an excellent story-teller, Miller was raised in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, went to William & Mary, and followed a girlfriend to Knoxville in 1990, fresh out of college and determined to make a career in music. At the time, he was a rather quirky singer-songwriter but, by 1994, found enough kindred spirits to form the first version of the Viceroys (abbreviated to V-Roys once they discovered another band with the same name). They eventually were heard by a recently rehabilitated Steve Earle and signed to his E-Squared label. The band became known for a wide array of influences, sometimes covering Hank Williams and Judas Priest in the same set, but after a few not so successful years on the road, broke up in 1999. Miller formed a new band, Scott Miller & the Commonwealth, who were briefly the house band on Blue Collar TV, but returned to his solo persona. He signed with Sugar Hill Records in 2000, but left them in 2008, and started distributing his music through his own F.A.Y. Recordings. In 2011, Miller moved back to his native Virginia to run the family farm in Swoope, Virginia, continuing to work on his music career in his spare time.
His second selection, an old V-Roys tune, Lie I Believe, speaks to how one can choose to believe what we know are untruths to get along and go along: "You said I was someone, it's a lie I believe," and "Time heals all wounds is a lie I believe."
He semi-apologizes for marrying a West Virginia girl, and his next song, Lo Siento, Spanishburg, West Virginia, is a humorous take on a small town that suffers from being a bit rundown but ends up (possibly) looking up. Their local football team is not very good: "I guess the will to win is oft forgotten when old times there are oxycontin," but eventually "a writer from a magazine came and wrote the whole town up for the AARP, called it "' number one place to retire'" so the rich folks came and the taxes got higher."
His style is genuine and refreshingly irreverent, and, on several songs, his opener, How Am I Ever Gonna Be Me? and the following tune, Bastard's Only Child, Scott is Will Kimbrough's musical doppelg�nger - his singing and lyrical style not necessarily copying Will's, but a very close likeness. Ironically, Kimbrough has played with Rodney Crowell for many years and on several albums. They both got to the same place from different directions - likely never consciously copying the other (in fact I don't know if either knows of the other). I view this phenomenon as simply having more of this excellent style of singing and songwriting to enjoy.
Tying back to the philosophy espoused in Lie I Believe, Angels Dwell, from the 2003 Upside Downside album, Miller calls the woman who maintains the fiction that he is a somebody an angel regardless of the lack of evidence showing his worth: "Can't be more broken than I've already broke, Can't be more hopeless when I don't have hope, When she sees that I just don't care, She still finds in me something when there's nothing there."
Many legendary songs have been written about trains, and Miller's, Amtrak Crescent, is about a trip from New Orleans to the East Coast. As he tells it, the song sparked a tour made up of train stops that duplicated the song, but, even though it was fun, didn't make him a dime, proving the song's point that: "When life goes wrong, this train goes on." (Of course, Amtrak probably didn't make a dime either.)
The remainder of the set was at the same excellent level, and many of us in the capacity crowd wished he could have stayed and played more but we were also there to hear Rodney.
Jim Caligiuri of the Austin Chronicle says that "Miller's tunes mingle themes from Virginia-related historical fables and current-day experiences of self-discovery and maturity with musical styles that veer from dynamic pop with gigantic rock hooks to a soulful Appalachian-style hymn. What keeps it all together is his sly way with words and a biting sense of humor." Couldn't have said it better myself, and if you get a chance to see Scott Miller, do so; I don't know how good he is at selling cows, but he's a damn fine singer songwriter.
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