Saturday, May 17, 2008

History: Scott Miller Edition

"I am behind the times. But not so far that I don't realize the futility of making a 'regional' record in a 'global' world. By looking at my past, not just of my life but of my family, I can gather clues to what makes me as I am."
--Scott Miller

If you don't know Scott Miller, a brief history lesson is in order. In the mid-to-late 1990s, he co-fronted The V-Roys, a blast furnace of kickass rock 'n' roll, like a slightly twangier Soul Asylum circa ... And The Horse They Rode In On or The Replacements circa Pleased To Meet Me.

Following the V-Roys' 1999 breakup ... a moment of silence, please ... Miller ventured into solo territory, with a succession of albums progressively more informed by historical memory. His first studio album, in fact, was titled, Thus Always To Tyrants, which not only serves as the Virginia state motto, but in its Latin form (Sic semper tyrannis), was the phrase John Wilkes Booth snarled in Ford's Theatre after shooting President Lincoln.

Miller's songs often venture into personal history, which we'll get to in a moment, but his subject matter also includes such weighty subjects as The Civil War and World War II, which we'll also get to in a moment. This love for the past manifested itself most poetically in his January 2004 Amtrak Crescent Tour, in which he hit 15 cities by train, beginning with New Orleans and ending with New York City ... or as he likes to call it, New New Amsterdam. He's such a stickler, that Miller.

So, that's the background, here's the tunes.

V-Roys: Virginia Way/Shenandoah Breakdown [purchase]

Coming at the tail end of the V-Roys run, this is a personal homage to Scott's family and his home state of Virginia. We didn't realize it then, but this was a sign of things to come. And for the "Shenandoah Breakdown," he enlisted the help of genuine bluegrass royalty in The Del McCoury Band.

Scott Miller: Daddy Raised A Boy [purchase]

An incisive personal history, but with a great reference to the bombing of Japan. If we ever tackle the father theme, someone else can do "Cat's In The Cradle," I'm taking this one.

Scott Miller: Highland County Boy [purchase]

A Civil War tale rendered with stark beauty by Tim O'Brien on saw fiddle and Scott on harmonica and guitar thump. Though narrated by a southerner, the song serves as an elegy for each side, the Blue and the Grey both seemingly doomed to failure because of their inherent weakness as men. Powerful medicine.

'Tis wickedness and self conceit
That is the deign of man
The farmer and the land compete
As God's first reprimand

There'll be a day, the Blue and Grey
Will hear the trumpets blow
And they'll dance around like ol' John Brown
On the long end of a rope.

Scott Miller: Red Ball Express [purchase]

A left turn in the Miller catalog, this song concerns a World War II truck convoy consisting mostly of black soldiers. The Red Ball Express was an extremely dangerous 1944 supply operation, providing General Patton's troops in France with gas, ammunition, and food, amidst gun and rocket fire from German combatants. To learn more about the Red Ballers, check out Wikipedia and this great Department of Defense article. We're talking American heroes, people!

As always, enjoy.


Anonymous said...

Great couple of posts today LD!

bob said...

great-now i have to go cd shoping....thank you.