If you’ve ever heard Bill Miller before, you don’t need me to tell you how great his singing and songwriting are, or how strong his spirit is. Born to Mohican-German parents and raised on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in Wisconsin, Miller saw more than his fair share of discrimination and despair while he was growing up. But through his inner strength and faith he found a way out, a way to forgive instead of hate. It’s this message of peace and hope that he expresses in his music.
Don’t let any of that mislead you, though — Ghostdance also kicks serious ass, especially on the title track, which has an incredible driving energy to the guitars, drums, and singing. I like the stripped-down feel, the Native American chants in the background, and the cedar flute toward the end. If you’re feeling beaten down, this song will give you the heart to stand up and fight back. “Forgive” is another of my favorites. Eerie waterphone and ebo bass join with gentle acoustic guitar to frame Miller’s harrowing tale of a cycle of violence in one family, passed from father to son and husband to wife, a dark tale of hate feeding on hate forever if we don’t learn to forgive. Kudos also for the instrumental “The Last Stand,” with its martial guitars, flute, and drums matched with bluesy harmonica and warrior shouts, and for the funky bass line, blues guitar, and organ on “Blessing Wind.”
At first, I wasn’t so sure about the string section backing Miller on several of the tracks, but after a few listens, it began to make more sense, especially as a way to join the beginning and end of Ghostdance in an unbroken circle of life and light and hope. A very impressive album from a very impressive man.
Vanguard Recording Society, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404; http://www.VanguardRecords.com.