Like most takes on Miller's solo works (including my own, available on racks as soon as later today), reviewer Joshua Klein struggles with the aim of this album. Problem is, as Klein also notes, it's tough to separate Miller's work from that of the Old 97's, especially given the fact that the latter act is still in tact. So it's tough to tell what Miller is going for (Klein notes the disc's "aww" vs. "awe" factors, as well as its "impress" vs. "inspire" ones). Separatism? Diversion? Expansion?
"Maybe that's the Texan in Miller at work, making the case that, whenever in doubt, it's best to sacrifice flash and err on the side of modesty. The disc's tasteful to a fault, but at least you can't fault his good taste."
And, ultimately, that's hurdle the disc never overcomes...
As my own review notes, it's a good disc (probably Miller's best solo effort), and the songs are undoubtedly enjoyable. But there is, again, without a doubt, something missing, something just out of the disc's grasp, something that keeps the disc from latching onto its listeners. A certain grit, maybe. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a viable reason for existence. There's just nothing about the disc that screams "must-own," except to the most diehard of fans--which is weird because, again, these are enjoyable, well-crafted songs.
If I had to jump on a reason, I'd say it's because there's not much logic, in my mind at least, as to why these songs weren't flushed out as 97's tracks. With that band venturing away from alt-country and Miller himself attempting to move more closely to the rock end of the pop spectrum, it just seems a natural fit. But I don't know if that's right either. Which maybe speaks to the ultimate problem of the disc--both with me and with other reviewers. The disc leaves us struggling for how to react, either positively or negatively.
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Unfortunately, that's the ultimate sign of mediocrity, even if the disc is too enjoyable for most reviewers to want to admit as much.