More Than Meets the Ear

Citation (Sugar Hill Records)
Scott Miller and the Commonwealth

By Kevin Gibson

I've been a Scott Miller fan since I cued up the V-Roys' Just Add Ice at an ear X-tacy listening station, motivated simply by the strength of the album cover. That was ten years ago and I've been following Miller's career and immense talent ever since (as well as that of his former bandmate, Mic Harrison).

But I was a bit disappointed when I listened to Miller's new effort, Citation, out now on Sugar Hill Records. Why? Hard to say, but what I missed right out of the gate was Miller's blistering rock 'n' roll soul. This album seems to take several songs to really get rolling, or at least to get to the meaningful pace I'm used to from Miller and his band.

The first track is an inexplicable, 25-second instrumental intro and to be quite honest it's just too long and too flat. I went out and paid 15 bucks for a CD, popped it in my player anticipating a roots-rock assault coming at me any second - and I get this?

The second track, "Freedom's a Stranger," then came on and while it was clearly a solid song about youth and passing time, it was mellow to the point that I found myself fighting the urge to hit the forward button. The smooth, banjo-driven "Wild Things" is next in line with Miller's folk and bluegrass sensibilities on full display. And yet, still no rock.

The pace really doesn't start to pick up until "Still the People Move," and even that takes a while to find its head of steam. And even though the album closer, the beautiful "Long Goodnight," is perhaps one of the best songs he's written, I finished out my first impression of Citation with a resounding yawn.

But what I later found is that this album took me a few listens to grow comfortable with - like all of Miller's efforts, it is tight, well written and performed with deftness and sincerity. And depth.

For instance, "Stranger," which I initially dismissed, is actually quite the rock anthem in its own way: "Just some West Virginia back roads / There never was much else / Jam a tape into the player / I couldn't believe it myself / Those drums they shook the speakers / The bass it shook me to the core/If the Boss had been a preacher / He could've led us to the Lord."

Miller also takes a few risks here, such as getting political in the stomping "8 Miles a Gallon:" "So your boys are deployed / If it's me you're fighting for / We need democracy and gasoline / and a world of rock and roll / and I'm praying everyday / that if you make it through the battle / I won't feel so guilty about 8 miles a gallon."

Previously, Mr. Miller had been relatively satisfied talking to us about broken hearts, loss, home and coming of age - which he also does with some success on Citation - so in that way, he's taken a significant step forward.

After discovering all this upon multiple listens, I was reminded that sometimes pre-conceived expectations can create quite a distraction when you're trying to listen to a new album.

I blame the media.

More on Miller can be found at www.thescottmiller.com.