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 … .