Scott Miller and The Commonwealth
If you ever have the chance to catch Scott Miller live either with or without his band The Commonwealth, do yourself a favor and go. Always a gracious host, he’ll more than likely blow the roof off your favorite beer joint almost any night of the week. It’s a tradition that has continued from his days in the Knoxville-based alt-country band the V-Roys, who were renowned for their stellar live shows. Miller now follows up 2003’s somewhat underwhelming, laid-back effort Upside Downside with a disc that more closely follows the imprint of his excellent solo studio debut, 2001’s Thus Always to Tyrants. And from first listen it’s clear these songs will sound equally great in a beer joint (in fact there’s a live album on the way from this tour) or on the open road (perhaps at the wheel of a clunker like the one for which this album is named).
Sweet nostalgia for young love in the back seat of a car on West Virginia back roads informs the terrific opener “Freedom Is A Stranger.” “Two rock and roll spirits with nothing better to do,” Miller sings. By the third verse, reality has set in as Miller has grown up, found someone else and acquired a mortgage. “But I don’t mind getting older/ You get smarter when you do/ And the burdens that you shoulder/ Well that’s what defines you,” he sings before concluding “We’re such a complicated nation/ But I’ve still got rock and roll.” The Commonwealth chugs along behind Miller with the same drive and groove that propelled the V-Roys.
“Freedom Is A Stranger” is a career highlight for Miller but it’s by no means the only highlight on this remarkably consistent disc, produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson (Big Star, The Replacements). There are also nice acoustic-based shuffles like “Wild Things” and “On a Roll,” authentic rockers like “Only Everything” and truck-driving slide blues numbers like “8 Miles a Gallon.” Miller also offers narrative ballads touched by wars past (the World War II-centered “The Only Road”) and present (the humorous “Jody,” narrated by a guy who joined the Army and learns his best friend is back home watching his TV, playing his guitar and drinking his beer).
Miller gives another history lesson in catchy fashion on “Say Ho.” In this case, the history predates Miller’s frequent touchstone, the Civil War. The song is a biography of 19th century Texas political figure Sam Houston.
And if “Still People Are Moving” pounds and shifts gears like prime Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the effect is purely intentional. A few songs later, Miller and band are covering Neil’s “Hawks and Doves” to great effect. “Got rock and roll/ Got country music playing/ If you hate that/ You just don’t know what you’re saying,” he sings. Amen, brother.
Throughout the record, these tunes are infused with the personality and infectious attitude that we knew Miller had in him all along — at least those of us who’ve spent any time watching him onstage at countless beer joints over the years.
Scott Miller: www.thescottmiller.com