The Instigator (Elektra)
Rhett Miller

By Kevin Gibson

I'm so stupid that it took me an entire listen to make the connection. Sure, I have a couple Old 97's albums, but I hadn't yet been reeled in enough to immediately recognize Rhett Miller as the front man. So when I latched on to The Instigator by way of a listening station (ear X-tacy gets most of my income), I thought I'd found a hidden jewel.

OK, so it isn't obscure, but it sure is a jewel. "Our Love" kicks off this disc with a full-tilt pop rant written like a letter to the object of a forbidden love. When "This Is What I Do" takes off, it's evident this isn't just some toss-off side project. Miller is one of those rare guys who really does have more than one side to his songwriting personality. That's not to say this is terribly far off what the Old 97's do, but it is decidedly Miller's possession.

Jon Brion produced and played a good portion of the instruments on the album and he admirably stepped back and let Miller do his thing. The result is a dead-on rock record - probably one of the best of last year. Miller sounds as natural on the aforementioned rockers as on the melancholy ballad "Come Around," and even has a little fun on "Four-Eyed Girl."

If you like back-to-basics guitar-based pop-rock, you need this album. And if you hadn't made the Miller-Old 97's connection yet, don't sweat it. You have now and you don't have to tell anyone you heard it from me. It's a freebie.