[23 May 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
While he may not exactly be a household name, Jerry Miller is certainly a master who has earned his chops on his beloved instrument: the guitar.
Such mastery is clearly on display on his Signature Sounds label debut, New Road Under My Wheels. As the title would imply—along with song titles such as “Detour”, “Eight More Miles to Louisville”, “Slaughter on Roosevelt Boulevard”, and many, many more—this is a record geared towards the open road. That is, the open road travelled by a DeLorean headed back to the honky tonks of 1955. What New Road Under My Wheels does, and does quite skillfully I may add, is merge styles such as rockabilly, western swing and surf rock into one mixture. And, boy, does this record ever appeal as a result.
It may just be that Miller isn’t much of a singer, so he farms out all the vocal duties on this mix of mostly covers but a few originals to “guest vocalists” such as Miss Tess (also a new act on the Signature Sounds label), Eilen Jewell, Roy Sludge and Eric Royer. The mix of different vocalists playing against different styles of music makes for a disc that is never boring. And then there’s Miller’s fretwork: flashy, but never show-offy; virtuoso-like, but never indulgent. What’s more, given that this is mostly a covers album, some of the material would be a bit on the corny side given the old timey genres being deep mined. But here’s the thing: Miller plays everything with the sincerest conviction, while keeping his singers delivering their words firmly with their tongues in cheek. That makes a song about relationship strife such as “Brother Drop Dead” willfully funny and dearly serious, even reverential, in the same breath. That’s a tough feat to pull off.
All in all, I can’t think of the single greatest superlative one could throw at this record: is it breathtaking, monumental, astounding? All three? More? I’m speechless. I suppose it is extremely high praise (and maybe high enough) to say you can put on this disc and immediately be transported into a good mood no matter how low you’re feeling. It really turns out that New Road Under My Wheels is that rarity of a gem: it’s an instant classic. And it is utterly flawless. I heart this album, and think it’s clearly the best thing put out by anyone yet all year. This is, quite simply and undeniably, the work of somebody who is a genius at what they do, and the album is utter perfection from beginning to “The End of the Line”, the final track. God bless Jerry Miller; I can’t be more effusive as to how wonderful New Road Under My Wheels is, so I think it’s best if I just quietened down now so I can listen to this extremely crowd-pleasing record all over again. And again. And again. And once more, for good measure. And then maybe once more after that ... .