It’s easy to turn speculative whenever you see that a drummer has decided to step in front of the microphone and take a turn in the spotlight. With many drummers, you’re just happy if you can get them to bathe and not to bite their toenails at the breakfast table. Levon Helm and Don Henley are the exceptions. “Sturgill Simpson’s drummer” certainly gets you to pay attention to what’s happening here, but the next thought you have is, “Okay, but how good could he really be?”
In the case of Miles Miller, he’s that good. Really good. Surprisingly good. He’s so good in fact, your next question is why he’s been sequestered behind a drum set for so long? Sure, he sang harmony for Sturg and was always presented as the “bandleader.” He also did a stint in the Asheville-based band Town Mountain. But Miller has a naturally-pleasing and seemingly effortless singing style that most dedicated singers can’t even bring to the table these days. He’s also got a rather stellar set of songs worthy of bending your ear to.
All of this is illustrated in Miller’s debut album Solid Gold. Produced by Sturgill Simpson, the 12-song set features a lot of Southern-style soulful moments less indicative of Kentucky, and more similar to the Muscle Shoals sound, or perhaps Brent Cobb and his smooth country vibe. There is also a distinctly 70’s-era classic rock feel to Solid Gold, and favorably so.
This is definitely a mood album, applicable for altering or enhancing it in a favorable manner. Even when it turns gloomy like with the song “A Feeling Called Lonesome,” you’re still left with a soothing, pleasant feeling from the attitude of Miller’s delivery, how the music meshes easily with the words, and the way the album plays from cover the cover, advocating to be left on and repeated.
This is also a groove album, not a lick album. But the instrumentation is allowed to step out a bit and stretch its legs on a few occasions, like on the road song “Highway Shoes,” as well as on “Seeing Clear” with the tasty guitar giving this album some vigor at the right time. “In A Daze” is where some may wince or turn their head sideways like a dog that heard something strange due to the funky chorus interlude followed by double time drums. But to others, this will be the highlight of their listening experience from the song’s bold approach.
Just as engaging are the more sedated songs like “Where Daniel Stood,” which makes reference to Daniel Boone who helped settle and explore Kentucky where Miles Miller hails from and calls home. With an uncommonly sublime voice, Miller can carry a song himself, free of any drums or other intrusive accompaniment, and does so on numerous occasions during the album.
One thing Miles might want to look out for though is a couple of these songs come across with a bit of a James Taylor vibe. Not to knock James Taylor necessarily, but songs like “Passed Midnight” and “Always November” give off a slight soft mom rock aspect. A little grit or twang could have done them good, though the songwriting never gives out, especially on those two tracks.
You might know Miles Miller first and foremost as a drummer. But he’s always been a singer and guitar player as well. He calls it his first love, and clearly it comes natural to him as opposed to someone trying to shift disciplines since his old boss (Sturgill) has now mostly retired. What made Miller such a good drummer is that he had the discipline and ear of a singer and songwriter, so he minded the melody, and made sure not to step on the words. Little did we know he could write and sing those words and craft those melodies himself, and to such a beneficial degree.
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