Dan Mills is a hot rod, as in a souped-up fast car, steeped in a honky tonk, Hank Williamsy world of fast tunes and deep balladry. Mills has left his alter ego Carl Perkins behind these days, but not far. From Broadway to the highway, Dan’s touring heavily in support of Something Good, his latest and greatest album.
On the CD, he starts out fast in a “Quiet Car.” A rocking, hard-driving tune, “Quiet Car” sets a fast pace that stands as an anchor through a stream of honky tonk, vocal jazz, quietly reflective ballads, swinging r & b, and cowboy songs.
Dan played Carl Perkins in the original Broadway production of The Million Dollar Quartet. He doesn’t leave that Perkins/Cash/Jerry Lee/Elvis mold far behind. I hear elements of all four in Mills and company. There are moments of country, swing, rock and roll, and honky tonk that would be quite at home at Sun Studios. But, there are also jazz vocals and more contemporary lyricism. As in the offbeat “Sandy”: “Sometimes I think you live to let me down/When I see that fire in your eye /and it burns the morning sky/Sandy why you always let me down?”
In “Buy a Boat,” Mills says “I’m gonna find myself a J45, and I’m gonna “fix it up.” I can easily picture Dan with his jutting jaw, prominent nose, intense gaze, and serious glasses playing the heck out of a Gibson cherry sunburst J45,” fine guitar work that is evident on this album as well.
He acknowledges the legacy of the afore-mentioned western music kings in the song, “Spinnin’ the Cowboys.” “If you wanna know a little thing about me a little thing about me/yeah I like to sit around and listen to cowboys/There’s nothing like a heartbreak song/a drink too strong head nodding along/when I’m spinning’ the cowboys.”And, he remembers life in the big city in the homespun and humorous “Crazy about New York”: “I never thought I’d see my name on a buzzer by the door/But every cul de sac is the same/and main streets such a bore/I packed up my car/drove it west down 84/Honey, I’m just crazy about New York.”
The jazz floats the air in “Tucson, Arizona,” soft as tea under a terrace of roses, then jazzes Jerry Lee-like into a rocking bridge that takes the melody out and shakes it hard, then back again to the soft side of Tucson.
“I don’t like walking in the cold, I like driving in the sunshine
So take me out of Park Slope, I want to leave all of the run behind
And pack the Camel Blues, and all the Dead that we own
Because we’ve got nothing to lose, Tucson, AZ.”
“Buy a boat” is a sweetly wishing, beautifully lyric-ed, ode to the fact that “there’s more to life than wishin’,more than just OK.” He sings, “I’m gonna buy a boat. I’m gonna fix it up. I’m gonna find a girl, who’ll sail the world ‘til we fall in love.”
“Damage is Done” is a darkly flowing narrative, and “Easier Said than Done,” is a rolling think-along through flowing melodic shifts and shining moments:
“And I never knew a little sky would feel so lovely
The mountains from my bed
The purples and the reds
Stars instead of siren lights above me
And I never thought that I could love another ocean
But oh, it’s just a name / now I know it’s all the same
the water with my mind in constant motion”
Dan has a grace about him, in his words, his music, and his stage presence, moving into the audience and joining them in the process of communicating the music. This album’s kind of like that, letting the listeners all the way in where they can join in with a lift to their steps and smiles on their lips.
The strong band behind him includes good pal and musical partner, Mark Goodell on guitar and bass, and a powerful assemblage of talent, with some lovely female backup vocals by Mipso’s Libby Rodenbough. Other backup vocalists include Joseph Terrell, also of Mipso and a close friend and neighbor of Mills.
Excuse me now, as the artist says on Something Good,
“I’m gonna buy a J45, and I’m gonna fix it up. I’ll play your favorite song, have you singing along till the moon comes up.Yea I’m gonna buy a J45, and I’m gonna fix it up.”