CD Review of Rhett Miller by Rhett Miller
Rhett Miller: Rhett Miller
Recommended if you like
Old 97s, Todd Snider, Peter Case
Label
Shout Factory
Rhett Miller: Rhett Miller

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

O
ver the course of his prolific career, Rhett Miller’s chosen to juggle a double obligation – one that puts him at the helm of the roots rock outfit, the Old 97s, the other that sees him indulging individual ambitions with his ever-prodigious solo output. However, as has been proven in the past, flirting with a double focus can inevitably force an artist to choose only one route above the other. Rod Stewart may be the most famous precedent; seduced by success, he had to decide between keeping faith with the Faces or giving in to the pressures of pursuing burgeoning solo stardom.

Miller hasn’t reached that critical crux just yet, but with four albums on his own, his solo sojourns have obviously become more than just an occasional distraction -- so don’t be surprised if he eventually decides to quit his day job with the band and focus entirely on his own initiatives. When comparing the songs he saves for himself and those he delivers to the band, it’s clear he has no qualms about saving at least some of his better material for the albums released under his own aegis.

Produced by the Old 97s’ longtime associate (and acclaimed artist in his own right), fellow Texan Salim Nourallah, Miller’s latest is a mostly troubled affair, a concept album about love’s letdowns and the difficulties of coping the myriad of issues associated with romance. It begins with a flurry of noise, but ultimately, even the rumbling, tumbling assault of "Nobody Says I Love You Anymore" and the kinetic shuffle of "Live Love" can’t mask the sense of despair that clouds Miller’s melodies. It lingers on in songs such as "Caroline" ("I am my own archenemy"), "Another Girlfriend" ("the trouble with being in love is it’s so hard to get out of…") and "Refusing Temptation" ("It would be so easy to say yes…") and despite the radiant chorus that accompanies "I Need to Know Where I Stand" and the easy amble that steers "Another Girlfriend," Miller’s trouble and turmoil seem all too pervasive. Eventually, the slow burn reaches a point where it begins to wear, and the mood bows to melancholia.

Still, that’s not to diminish the effort’s overall appeal. Indeed, for all its pouting and pessimism, Rhett Miller demonstrates its author’s ongoing ability to convey a generally amiable outlook and a breezy, everyman perspective. Miller may moan – at times without relief – but given the turmoil of the times, who among us can’t empathize with his uncertainty?

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