Scott Miller & the Commonwealth
Thus Always to Tyrants
When you break up one of the best live bands in the country, you better have a good second act to follow it up. Scott Miller’s band The V-Roys called it a day as the new millennium dawned, playing their final show on December 31, 1999. With two studio records (1996’s Just Add Ice and 1998’s All About Town) and hundreds of sweat-soaked gigs behind them, Miller was ready to try something else.
Thus Always to Tyrants finds Miller paired with a new group of musicians, including a few vets of the Nashville scene, who do a pretty fair job of achieving the rock and roll energy of his old group. Miller’s boyhood home state of Virginia, his adopted home of Knoxville and his love for Civil War lore figure prominently in the record’s lyrical themes.
Miller trades licks with guitarist Dave Grissom amidst a swirling string section on the opening “Across the Line,” a number about towns along the Virginia-West Virginia border. He takes a harmonica solo on the rocking “I Made a Mess of This Town.” He talk-sings his way through the verses of “Won’t Go With You,” leading up to a strong chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Mellencamp record. And “Yes I Won’t” is a surging song of stubbornness and defiance with more impressive Grissom guitar work.
Miller quotes the traditional “Barbara Allen” on “Dear Sarah,” a bluegrass number about his great-great grandmother that includes Tim O’Brien on fiddle. “Highland Country Boy” is another Appalachian-tinged Civil War ballad with O’Brien’s fiddle and Miller’s harmonica providing the only accompaniment. Miller comes back rocking strong on “Absolution,” on which fellow Knoxville residents Superdrag back him up. “Miracle Man” (aka “I Ain’t No Miracle Worker”) is not the Elvis Costello song, but a cover of a track by a band called The Brogues that was on the original Nuggets box set. Miller makes the song his own and shows nice vocal range. “Daddy Raised a Boy” is one of three songs previewed earlier this year on Miller’s solo acoustic independent release, Are You With Me?
“Goddamn The Sun,” a track Miller used to do with his old band on their final tour, is perhaps the best two-minute approximation of Jason and the Scorchers-style thrills I’ve heard this year. And “Is There Room On the Cross For Me” is a piano spiritual that sounds like it came directly from a church hymnal rather than Miller’s own notebook.
With Thus Always to Tyrants, Scott Miller is well on his way to a successful second act.