By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
A friend once interviewed Meredith Louise Miller for a local radio station. "What's so great about you," my pal enthused, "is that you say all the goofy things about love that the rest of us are afraid to say out loud."
"Um," Miller said after a moment. There was another pause. "Uh...thanks." It was hard to tell what Miller thought of that, based on 1992's Bob, her first album--full of odd, funny little gems like "Food Song" and "To A Bee." Now Miller seems determined to grow up a bit; she pretty much succeeds.
The longest song on Bob was a hair short of four minutes, and the album was pretty much cut whole from the folk-pop cloth of folks like Shake Russell and Dana Cooper--lots of acoustic guitars flavored with violin, keyboards, and Dobro--the sound of one artist and some talented friends. Hifi has longer songs and a bigger sound, more like the work of a band. Electric guitars are more abundant and the drumming's bolder, supporting Miller but retaining its own character.
But it's still Miller's identity--expressed through her distinctive voice--that carries her work along. Miller's singing conveys hopeful acceptance leavened with a bit of cynicism and fatigue, like someone facing herself in the mirror in the morning: Oh, great, it's you. She shrugs and admits her faults, as on the acoustic strummer "Chapel," where she admires a beau by comparing his very real, screwed-up personality to her somewhat affected dysfunction. "You really had an ulcer, like I always say I do," she tells him, then professes her admiration for Sid Vicious.
She's a bit more adventurous vocally on this album, processing and treating her voice on several cuts ("His Heart," "The Prince Song") to gain a sound that's often isolated to the point of alienation. Her ambition seldom betrays her, although it must be said that "Dreams of You and Elvis" derails its humor with cliche (Elvis has been done, hon) and a cynic might subtitle the earnest pseudopsychedelia of "The Prince Song"--an eerily detached, echo-y tale of determination and damage--"Meredith takes a tab." Small points, however. The elements of the other songs--the funny, insightful images in "Chapel," the gentle sadness and hope behind "Whole" ("I'm sorry I was a virgin/In a manner of speaking"; the way she says vuhhr-gin is a perfect example of the appeal of her unique phrasing), and the beautiful take on the Everly Brother's "Wishing"--reveal that the goofball possesses hidden wisdom, the kind that makes grownups out of kids, women out of girls, and artists out of the people sitting next to you on the bus.