By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Put on your break-up
Meredith Miller Band
Meredith Miller's second album (pronounced "Madam, I'm Adam") is her first with her band, singer-guitarist Reed Easterwood and ex-Tripping Daisy drummer Bryan Wakeland. Sharing music-writing duties with Easterwood, Miller is finally fleshing out the smart acoustic numbers she penned as a solo artist; as Miller confessed to the Dallas Observer last year, "Everybody knows rock and roll's more fun than folk music," and it's true. Miller's solo acoustic performances are never wimpy, never dry, yet the presence of a full band adds substance to the singer's introspective folk-pop songs. It's the difference between a slap and a punch.
On such tunes as "Broken Keys" and "A Year and 3 Months," the disc's most electric and hook-laden track, the worth of the backing band is manifest. Miller sings from the waist and makes it sound as though it's coming from the heart. On the lullaby "Prince," she reaches for the jugular with a line so brutal and caustic, yet refreshingly honest: "It feels like crying, I'm not real sure what that feels like / So it feels like throwing up, spilling out guts." After pinpointing the uncertainty and body-wrenching euphoria/fear of falling in love, the singer reveals an ever-present longing for someone. "Someday my prince will come / And I'll know when it's OK not to run," Miller gushes during the same song. Unlike the faux-kies parading onto the stage of Lilith Fair in tube tops and stilettos, Miller is neither a vixen nor a dope. She never comes across as insincere or overweening. She's simply genuine, the real thing. When covering Tom Waits on the sweet, pedal steel-tinged "San Diego Serenade," Miller sounds as if she wrote the book on loneliness and self-reflection.
Miller reveals herself to have an iron exterior but insides made of mush. "I heard you tell me that you love me, and then I heard the door," she sings on "Girl Go Down." The song embodies the whole record, a soundtrack to breaking up without letting go. "Your Laugh" details the war between heart and mind wherein the singer's plans are thwarted when she falls for the charming laugh of an irresistible lover. "My Thinking" starts out with only acoustic guitar and morphs into a rollicking, all-climax-and-no-release song; Miller almost recalls Chrissie Hynde, especially when she wonders, "Why does the dawn look so much different from the dusk?" It's one more line suggesting the dubiousness and unreliability of infatuation.
The jarring "Broken Keys" is the most Liz Phair-ish track on the album, complete with sirens and the confrontational tale of a lover's inability to open the singer's heart. Follow that up with her cover of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," and you might decide never to date again. And that's OK, because staying home and listening to this disc is just as satisfying and a lot less painful.
The Meredith Miller Band performs April 3 at the Gypsy Tea Room.
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