War and Minstrel Blues
Bluesrock firebrand Larry Miller has presented an album of great sensitivity, both in the lyrics and the more subtle playing compared with his trademark, certainly live, rip-it-up style. The album title, and title track, both present respectively the surface and then more expansive narrative of parts of the album. Opener One Fine Day is probably on more familiar territory musically, though even here the fine blues is swelled by the production with horns, but it is the storytelling in the next two tracks that take us as listeners across more emotive and empathetic terrain. Soldier of the Line begins with the echoing of gunfire, and the acoustic guitar with cello orchestration lays a solemn platform for the foregrounding of Larry’s singing, deep and plaintive, as he ponders as a soldier if he will make it home, and make it home to the loves and other reassurances he left behind. His persona ponders the reasons for fighting, and the predictable, but nonetheless poignant pondering on the reality of reciprocation in fighting for ‘king and country’ – making that sacrifice without questioning its true appreciation. This is followed by Failed Again where the persona – not necessarily the same or of that same time, initially the First World War – is concerned about other doubts in his private life where marriage and divorce symbolise a different kind of battle, and loss. The guitar work here is also plaintive in its simple but crying-long notes: yes, making one think of Gary Moore with his balladic solos, but for those who know Miller’s previous work, this is his own forte.
The sound of cicadas introduce fourth track The Power You Have, and like the opener, we step outside the war context to pursue the heart of blues: relationships and beholding and the paradoxical pain of it all. It’s a driving blues, again beautifully produced, soaring rather than shredded guitar. Fifth Our Time is Coming is a riff-driven stomper, guitar solo clipped to perfection, and when it time-shifts to another blues riff, the slower repetitions grip, before we are returned to that former stomp.
Come Hell or High Water is a classic blues ballad that is sweet and yearning and full of love’s hope - before the fall - and we listen in such anticipation for the guitar to speak to this everyday pain. When it does come there is a gentleness to that playing, and we realise that Miller’s singing has carried the weight of the song’s emotion and done so with great feeling, the chorus confirming love’s conviction against all the signs.
Seventh Bathsheba V2 returns us to a war scenario, but this time sharing the arena once more with love and yearning, here lyrically in once-upon-a-time folklore territory with a King who sees and beds a beautiful maid and then kills her man, these lyrics somewhat stunted by that classical framing, but the guitar on this track is sublime, and an accompanying harpsichord is an anachronistic if intriguing echo of 60s pop, the building orchestration a considerable production surprise. I’ve only seen Larry play live one time [and that was stunning] and I can imagine him playing this on stage with a fully committed bluesrock minstrel’s storytelling zeal.
The album ends where we expect and want to hear Miller, pounding out a stonker in Mississippi Mama. This is an album of great variety, always rooted in the voice and guitar playing of a dynamite performer, but here showcasing songcraft of equally potent merit.