[6 February 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
On her 2006 album, Now You’re Gonna Be Loved, Austin-based singer Jessie Lee Miller proved she had perfected the poised pose and pitch of mid-1950s western-swing. So faithful was her sound that she inevitably drew comparisons to Patsy Cline.
On Waiting, Miller again recalls the stars of country’s golden era, but this time she widens her stylistic palette to include rhythm and blues, big band jazz, rockabilly, and even a few little touches of Tejano, as well. Perhaps as a result of her decision to self-produce this album, her voice, too, is more varied. Though still possessing that depth, strength, and haunting quality associated most closely in popular consciousness with Cline, there is clear evidence of Miller’s other probable vocal influences. Texas Ruby springs to mind on several tracks, as do country pioneer Jean Shepard, honky-tonk hell-raiser Charline Arthur, and hillbilly queen Rose Maddox. Whether she’s the sultry chanteuse or the feisty firecracker, it’s obvious that Jessie Lee Miller knows her musical history.
Waiting opens with “People Fall in Love Like That”, a George Carver (The Modern Agriculture) tune cautioning people to be on guard for love at first sight that could just as easily apply to this album which may cause instant feelings of affection—love at first listen, perhaps.
“Good Lookin’ No Good” is a straight up rockabilly barn-burner originally by Sarah Brown of the Lucky Tomblin Band. Featuring the white-hot honky-tonk piano of Floyd Domino and true-blue twang of Rick McRae, this track is the standout. Miller is all sass and spark, like she’s channeling Wanda Jackson and Lorrie Collins simultaneously. Giving a playboy his walking papers never sounded so satisfying!
“Always October,” “Runaround”, and, most notably, the title track fall seamlessly back into the torch songs and troubled hearts territory. Tales of loss entwine with mournful fiddle (Erik Hokkanen), somber guitars (courtesy of Olivier Giraud, Rick McRae, Will Indian and Cindy Cashdollar depending on the track) and—to heart-wrenching effect—a forlorn clarinet (Stanley Smith).
“Loved By You” features lively Tejano trumpet (Rick White) and irresistibly flirtatious, if simple, refrain: “I wanna be loved by you / From my head to my heart / I wanna be touched by you / Don’t tear us apart”. “I’m Yours, You’re Mine”, with its optimistic outlook on love and a not-so-subtle nod to Buddy Holly, is another standout. It was written by Sean Mencher, late of rockabilly greats High Noon (Mencher also produced Miller’s first CD.), and it provides a catchy counterpoint to the slow-burning heartache found elsewhere on the album.
“If You Asked a Million Times”, “Insincere Words”, and “I Think I’ll Let Myself” again return to that at which Miller excels, evoking and embracing the alone and lovelorn. Hers is the voice of the woman at the other end of the smoky bar, at the end of the night. She can take you or leave you, and she’ll likely do both, because that’s all she knows.
“When You Said Hello” breaks up the bar room gloom with its buoyancy, at least instrumentally. It still features the hallmark heartbreak lyric, but the gallop of the guitars and high-spirited fiddling make it difficult even to imagine an empty dance floor. “Shameless Tomorrow” brings the rhythm section to the forefront in a classic locomotive shuffle, complete with devil-to-pay lyrical warnings.
Waiting closes with “Hard to Admit”, a walking bass, jazz brushes, and swing guitar number that finds Miller back in honky-tonk-angel-meets-smoldering-seductress mode. It’s a heady mix, and it’s the perfect way to close the album. As the music fades, Miller’s voice drops to whisper, hushed and haunting as it recedes. She leaves you waiting … wanting more.