Rock and Reprise.net
Swear to God, Russ Miller (who is ) is a ghost rider! He swoops in in a cloud of fog (or is that smoke?), rides his horse around the room a few times, drops a CD into your lap and vanishes, leaving you to await the next swoop, whenever that will be. Armed with a medium textured voice right out of the South and guitar to match, he hands you tracks you didn't ask for but would have if you'd known, but you never know until he appears. And he never calls!
This last CD , title Of Filth & Freedom, is another collection of drug-related tunes, though 'tunes' is hardly the word to use. That makes it sound like these songs belong between Michael Bolton and Taylor Swift on AOR radio, but place them there and you'd blow the transmitters (or the music programming robot's gasket). The titles alone put up massive red flags--- Black Out, My Own Doctor, Filth & Freedom, Coca Rain--- all on the backslide of the dark side. What's that? You think there's something going on there? Ya think?
My only guess is that Russ has had or has his demons. Even the front page insert suggests it. Take a look. Whiskey bottle, burned-out cigarette, fancy church key (or is it?). Bathed in darkness, you have to look close to see the headphones on the bottle and you think, maybe this guy isn't totally whacked out yet. He still has a bit of humor.
Thing is, he may not be whacked out at all. He may be sobriety personified, for all we know, and sure, his music is a little out there, but that may mean the he has a creative side, dark though it be. Drugs may be a subject, but after hearing two albums by The Tales, I'm convinced there is no out of control drug use. You don't produce music this good, alone, doing drugs. Not hard-core drugs. They take too much out of you.
Still, the theme is there. The electronic wind-up start on Black Out leads straight into layered guitar and vocals, the chorus darker in sound than the chunky rhythm guitar would warrant. A nice contrast. Straight into Spit Bottle. Where is that lyric sheet when you want it? You think Miller's going to make it easy? Hell, no! Heavily chambered voice may make the words a little harder to hear, but the slide work and chunky rhythm guitar ease the blow. And the guy can play lead. As a friend of mine once said, biting into a Bob's 18-cent burger, “Tast-eeeee!” He drives off the Southern Expressway for a moment to give us a taste of The Sensation, light jazzy acoustic guitar changing the pace and giving you a chance to get a breath of air. It's an upper/downer, having a sense of both, and an interesting combination. My Own Doctor has one of those under-rhythms you can't help but love, a chunk-a-chunk which takes the song through its paces. A groove, if you will. Catch the dual leads on the break and listen closely to the slide work. Very impressive.
Seriously. What do you expect a song titled Filth & Freedom to sound like? Especially with a chorus line like “When I get home/I'm gonna get high”? Well, it's not as dark as you would think. Maybe a little spacey, with droning harmony background vocals, but the mid-tempo rhythm and guitar work take it out of the dank black hole you might expect. Miller has a nice touch when it comes to the guitar (I say it too much, but it is true), especially when building layers, and he builds them well on this one. And now, a note about sequencing. Following Filth & Freedom with the slower and melancholic Another Methadone Sunrise, was, if not downright genius, a good move. The songs flow together in spirit, the latter bringing you down easy with a nicely constructed chorus and melodic lead guitar of the first water. Not sure about that electronically laced chant at the end, but if that's what it costs to get the music, I don't mind at all. It does separate the flow of Another Methadone Sunrise from the semi-manic Brown Powder, the crunching rhythm guitar straight out of the hard rock bands of the seventies. The Rockets on tequila, maybe? Not vocally, but I can hear it in the guitars. You can turn this sucker up and bang a few heads. Do you good. A little Coca Rain to cushion the crunch? So it goes. Call it power ballad, though it is hardly a ballad, the tempo slow and the sound as ethereal as it gets on this album. Bad Song is not what it says. Slower, plodding, it works its way to the finale, Filth & Freedom (down part III) and sets it up very well. The finale is a bit more dramatic than usual, the lead-in power chords not of the usual Miller variety. In fact, it's a bit more of a composition, the song broken up into bits and pieces and worked hard until time to move on. Most impressive is its tendency toward progrock, having a bit of Space Opera chord changes here and there. When it morphs into a reprise of “When I get home/I'm gonna get high”, all is wrapped into a tight little package and you get it. A beginning and an end. Revolutionary!
I'm kidding, of course. But Miller has put together a nice little package here. His vocals have smoothed out a bit since the last album (works very well on this one) and his guitar work is exceptional. He says he already has a third album recorded and is awaiting the artwork (What's this? A warning? I can't wait for the knock and the riding ghost this time. I'll be prepared!).
Just to let you know, Miller, although based in Texas, has bought into neither oil nor cattle. He, like most of us, struggles day to day to pay the bills, tossing coins he can ill afford to into a big jar for recording costs. What you get when you buy one of his CDs is a CDR dubbed by him, the title penned onto the disc in magic marker though there is a front page insert. This is not a bad thing. You get the music, he gets enough to eat and maybe record yet another fine album, and all is good with the world. It may be an ideal world, but it is the world I prefer. Better The Tales than all of the Springsteen and Beatles box sets you can manufacture. To my ears, at least.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.