Scott Miller and The Commonwealth
First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2003, Volume 10, #7
Written by John Metzger
Thereís nothing fancy about Upside Downside, Scott Millerís sophomore effort with his ever-potent backing band The Commonwealth. Throughout the disc, Miller plows his way through barn-burning rockers and lilting country ballads with the utmost efficiency, delivering 12 songs in just under 37 minutes. Like his previous efforts, both on his own and with The V-Roys, Miller continues to mine his heroesí pasts for musical ideas, yielding the Chuck Berry-isms that fill It Didnít Take too Long, the Everly Brothers-to-Elvis Costello-by-way-of-Buddy Holly atmospherics of Raised by the Graves, and the shimmering Neil Young-meets-Booker T and the MGs groove of Chill, Relax, Now. In fact, itís the influence of Young that pervades much the album ó from the harmonica accompaniment of The Way to the Rust Never Sleeps-in-reverse sequencing. In each case, however, Miller doesnít merely emulate the classics. Instead, he uses each artist as a starting point, mutating the styles to suit his own purpose.
With each album he releases, Millerís songwriting prowess has evolved considerably, and he now paints vibrant images of rural life while injecting enough of his own personal experiences to keep the emotions honest. Thereís a feeling of quiet desperation that creeps through The Way, a sense of generational helplessness that drifts through Raised by the Graves, and a bittersweet mixture of hope and sadness that saturates Amtrak Crescent. Perhaps the finest tune on the album, however, is Red Ball Express, a song that captures the horrors of war as men die in order to keep the armored divisions supplied with gasoline only to see their grandchildren head off to fight another conflict several decades later. Indeed, Miller sees and understands the pain and yearning contained in each of his charactersí stories. He also understands their need to escape within the drunken debauchery of a hoe-down (Ciderville Saturday Night) and their need to hope for a brighter tomorrow as seen through the eyes of their children (For Jack Tymon). On the surface, Upside Downside doesnít appear to be all that different from Millerís previous outings, but with better pacing and a streamlined approach that weaves a tighter lyrical thread ó this oneís a gem.
Upside Downside is available
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box