Emotions on full display, with guitars

The Believer (20th Century Records)

Rhett Miller

By Cricket Bidwell

Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller has released his second solo album, The Believer, to critical acclaim - now, let's hope the public gives it a chance.

Miller is one of those under-appreciated songwriting geniuses whose work somehow is lost in the crowd; in today's pop-drivel world, it's a crime that Miller isn't anywhere to be found on commercial radio playlists across the country.

Alt-country in places, pure pop happiness in others, the album winds its way through its variations with ease. Miller's songs are intelligent, easy to relate to, emotional and just plain fun. In creating a deeply personal album, Miller deals with suicide - the title track being a memoriam to the late, great Elliot Smith as well as a look at his own suicide attempt - and deep-seated insecurities, as in Jon Brion's "I Believe She's Lying."

Meanwhile, parts of "Delicate" seem to channel Robert Smith's use of uneven vocals to great emotional effect. In "Fireflies," a duet with songstress Rachael Yamagata, Miller provides a heart-wrenching look at fleeting young love and how two people can see things quite differently. "Help me Suzanne," written for his wife, is warm and fuzzy and full of love: "You gave me the reason for feeling like I do / I'd like to thank you."

And while love, love's ups and downs, breaking up, sex and death are staples in music of all kinds, Miller manages to make these things all his own, as if no one has ever thought or felt them in quite the same way.

A couple of Old 97's compositions show up here as well. "Singular Girl" is a reworked b-side, while "Question," from 2001's "Satellite Rides," is presented here in an acoustic version.

All in all, Miller's ability to balance regret, heartache, optimism and hope show through clearly on this album. Here's hoping for many more.

Rhett Miller performs at Headliners Music Hall April 15. Call 584-8088 for ticket info. For more on Miller, visit www.rhettmiller.com.