Album Review – Dean Miller’s “1965”

You can’t have a discussion about the important progeny of country legends who’ve gone on to offer their own lasting contributions to the music without at least mentioning Dean Miller, son of Roger. But too often he gets overlooked. Dean Miller might be partly to blame for that, not from any personal shortcomings, but from his usual preference these days to stay behind the scenes of music as opposed to putting his name out front, not needing to soak up the spotlight, and putting the music first.

As a producer, Miller has worked with some of the best, from legends like Willie and Merle, to being a champion of independent artists like Dallas Moore and The Western Terrestrials, to producing the recent release from another famous offspring, Georgette Jones. He’s got songwriting credits galore with folks like Teri Clark, to Mark Chesnutt, to Chris Knight. His songs appear on Hank Williams III’s Risin’ Outlaw, and Jamey Johnson’s The Guitar Song. Over time and somewhat quietly, Dean Miller has amassed quite the resume.

But Dean Miller’s personal output is nothing to overlook either, including his latest album just released called 1965. You won’t find Miller attempting to emulate his late father with wacka-do silliness or burrowing subversive messages into witty runs, nor should he or anyone else try to match or mimic that singular Roger Miller magic. Instead it’s Dean Miller’s seasoned and purposeful craft at quality songwriting, and proficiency with a variety of styles that comes into focus on 1965—named for a simpler time in life and music, including the year Roger Miller released his signature song, “King of the Road.”

But what you get on 1965 is not exactly classic country, or a neotraditional throwback project. It’s probably fair to designate the album as Americana from the diversity of sounds Dean brings to it, or more specifically, sort of early 90’s alt-country, while including a few stellar classic country cuts as well. There’s a little something for everyone on 1965, and it’s all top quality.

Country fans will want to start with the opening, title track. Even though it’s a bit more genteel in style, the message will resonate loudly with the devout country crowd. This leads into “The Will, the Way and the Want to,” which would have been a great little rockin’ country radio hit back in the 90’s. Nearing the end of the record, Miller also impresses with the timely and well-written “Wild Eyed World,” leading into the fiddle start off of the very traditional “Undying Flame.”

In between is where Dean Miller may lose some country listeners, but may gain some others. Call it whatever you want, maybe singer/songwriter material, but “Los Angelese” showcases the songwriting of Dean Miller as good as anything. Though he was also raised in Santa Fe and San Antonio, Miller spent large portions of his early years in the City of Angels, and moved back there in early adulthood. This musing on the sway the city draws upon so many, and the misfortune they ultimately find makes for a great character study and song.

In the middle of 1965, the set takes a decidedly adult contemporary turn. Though “Way Back When” and “River Road” are fine tracks, they’re missing the grit, and may feel out-of-place for many on a roots record. “Ireland” is a straight up Chamber of Commerce spot for the Emerald Isle complete with native flute, and clearly broaches a subject matter Miller is passionate about. But even when Miller veers away from country and Americana, it’s all done well. He shows off his skill as a producer who can work in all sorts of musical mediums successfully. Just call it the bias of a country fan that you wish he would have stuck a bit closer to his roots in some songs.

Dean Miller did his stint trying to be a star in the mid 90’s when he was signed to Capitol Records in Nashville and released a couple of radio singles. In the early 2000’s he signed with Universal South and released a couple more, but never really stuck as a commercial star. Yet as a songwriter, and now especially as a producer, Dean Miller is arguably finding his stride, and is becoming one of the most sought-after guys to have behind the board.

Written all by himself and self-released, 1965 is Dean Miller in all his many facets and influences. Some of specific tastes may cherry pick their way through, but there’s ample fruit to find. 1965 is also a great vehicle to not forget this important son of country music, named for the year Roger Miller dominated country music, winning an unprecedented six Grammy Awards, and gave birth to a son named Dean.

7.5/10

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Purchase Dean Miller’s 1965

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