Scott Miller & The Commonwealth

Thus Always to Tyrants

by Kevin Oliver


The story is an old one: acclaimed band self-destructs just at the point where they seem to be making their best music, and members go their separate ways. This time around, it was the Knoxville, Tennessee roots-rockabilly outfit The V-Roys, which featured a guy named Scott Miller on lead vocals, guitar, and most of the songwriting duties. Their short run included a pair of albums on Steve Earle’s E-Squared label and a live swan song that to their fans might have seemed the end of the road.

For Scott Miller, however, it appears that the V-Roys may have just been an extended bump in the road for his own musical vision. He performed as a solo artist on a local level prior to that band, and with this new disc his name returns to top billing on a crackling collection of rootsy rock. Not too far removed from his previous work to put off those who are already fans, but different enough to hint at mainstream appeal, these songs practically jump out of the speakers and lacerate the listener with hook after hook of catchy roots-pop.

cover art

Scott Miller & the Commonwealth

Thus Always to Tyrants

(Sugar Hill)

There is an occasional theme running through the disc that deals with Civil War issues and legends (Miller’s solo bow was initially rumuoured to be an all-Civil War concept album). Of these tracks, the strongest are, “Dear Sarah”, which works in the classic folk song “Barbara Allen” at its close, and the celtic-flavored Appalachian stomp of, “Highland County Boy”, which tells the tale of a younger brother who watches his fighting-age siblings march off to war, only to die one after the other. The interesting conclusion to this recitation is that the narrator blames both sides for his family’s loss, claiming, “There’ll be a day when the Blue and Grey will hear the trumpets blow.”

Despite his talents as a historian, Miller’s strongest writing concerns the history of the heart. These ‘relationship songs’ include perhaps the best opening line of the bunch, from, “Won’t Go with You”: “Now this beer is colder than the shoulder / You would give me if I were to tell you the truth.” “Yes I Won’t”, is an upbeat sequel to an earlier Miller composition, “Lie I Believe”, that he recorded with the V-Roys. A typically Miller-esque turn of phrase, where he twists the words to seem opposite of their true meaning, anchors the chorus, “When you see the end begin—it’s easier to let it end / And when the end’s beginning you’ll see it’s never ending / Yes I won’t.”

Elsewhere, Miller proves his versatility and range with a couple of rockers worthy of Steve Earle, “I Made a Mess of This Town”, and “Absolution”, and an elegiac gospel original, “Is There Room on the Cross for Me,” in which Miller pleads for his place in heaven, even though, “My life is nothing compared to those who’ve earned their right up there.”

Given a few more excellent, well-rounded albums like this one, he might earn his way into rock and roll heaven, at least.


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