Scott Miller – Pine Hill Farm (Durham, NC)
Yeah, it’s a little weird seeing Scott Miller perform in his civilian clothes — that is, in jeans and a work shirt, rather than the navy blue suit he generally dons with his band, the V-Roys. But long before co-founding that dapper twangpop outfit, Miller logged many miles on the singer-songwriter trail as kind of a cross between John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III. He was back in that mode on this night, facing a crowd of close to 70 (mostly V-Roys fans plus a few word-of-mouthers).
He pleased the fans, and no doubt earned some new ones, with V-Roys songs past (“Kick Me Around”, “Lie I Believe” and “Goodnight Loser” from 1996’s Just Add Ice), present (“Mary” and “Fade Away” from last year’s All About Town), and future (“Mess Of This Town”, You Can’t Shake Knoxville” and “Goddamn The Sun”, all hopefully destined for album #3). As expected, those band-born numbers proved more than robust and smart enough to stand up to being stripped down, so surprises had to come from elsewhere. As it happened, there were plenty to be found.
First, Whiskeytown fiddler/singer Caitlin Cary joined Miller for a pair of tunes, and then Miller did several written by “his cousin Curtis Jenkins.” With the poignant “The 12th Man” and the Prine-like “Mother Married A Yankee”. Jenkins proved it’s possible to be both clever and fictitious. Miller also offered a preview of a yet-untitled song cycle built around “Virginia Way”, a roots-revisiting tune on All About Town. (As a nod to its one-long-song format and as a fellow rurally-reared guy, may I respectfully suggest Thick As A Hick). If the tuneful and moving “Sarah” is any indication, it’s going to be a memorable project; it’s based on letters written by some of Miller’s forebears during the Civil War. (“Five went to war,” he explained; “two came back”).
Lastly, he shared the lovely “Is There Room On The Cross for Me?” — written so he’d have a proper bluegrass song to sing during a recent stint playing a musician in a Knoxville production of the play Foxfire. Miller was coaxed back for one more, a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”. Accompanied by only an acoustic guitar strum, Miller’s plaintive tenor surfaced the song’s sadness, which can get lost in the musically jolly original. One last surprise.