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Spirit Songs: The Best of Bill Miller

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Album Review

Bill Miller's best-of collection, Spirit Songs, sets the record straight on one of the most terminally mishandled and misunderstood recording artists in American popular music. Miller is a rock & roll singer/songwriter who uses his Native American heritage and its traditions as part and parcel of his art. As a result, his records always get bundled in the "Native American" sections of record stores in the world music ghetto. Without doubt this has kept him from the mainstream. This is understandably frustrating because he is amazingly accessible, writes great songs, and has a sound that is tailor-made for VH1 and Triple A radio audiences. But perhaps because of the lack of pop culture awareness, his focus has been kept where it should be: on the music. He's not worrying about his latest video and where it is in the rotation. Sure, it's easy to say that from this chair, but there's a reason: those of us who buy his records are grateful for his consistency not only for its vision, but also for its articulation. This volume proves without doubt that Miller is the equal of anybody who makes a living writing songs. There are 16 cuts on this set, all of them keen in their observation and language — both poetically and musically — and all as fine as a razor's slash. Standouts include the devastatingly beautiful "Listen to Me" (that Lyle Lovett would kill to have written); "Ghostdance," with its tough, hand-drum rhythms and cutting acoustic guitars, the rousing "Every Mountain I Climb," the haunting "Reservation Road," with its killer overtone flute intro, the only version of Michael Murphey's (the author's nothwistanding) "Geronimo's Cadillac," that decodes its true meaning, and the amazingly spooky folk-soul of "You Are the Rain." Miller's ethereal tenor croon is understated, full of expression and warmth; his images connect at gut level and force the listener to look outside subjective experience, and into the interconnected world for meaning by relating common and uncommon, workaday and spiritual experiences, in a manner akin to his peers: Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, Bob Seger, Greg Brown, and John Mellencamp. Miller's is great, even necessary American pop music. It appears, however, that his misfortune—writing, recording, and releasing records during an intolerant, bland, suffocatingly corrupt, and factionalized pop music era—is our boon becuse, when we can find them, his albums offer a bonafide aesthetic alternative to the garbage the mind-numbing unimaginative stuff that clogs the airwaves, the television and the CD bins. The music here puts makes the case ans sets the record straight; whether the machine of cultural industry will attempt to correct its gross errors is another story altogether.


Born: January 23, 1955 in Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation, W

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The strength of the Native American people and the hardships of their lives are captured through the folk-like balladry of Nashville-based singer/songwriter Bill Miller. Miller's best-known tune, "Tumbleweed," co-written with Peter Rowan and included on Rowan's 1990 album Dust Bowl Children, reflects on a memorable Native American character; Trail of Freedom, however, focuses on alcoholism among Native Americans. The son of Mohican-German parents, Miller was born on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation...
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Spirit Songs: The Best of Bill Miller, Bill Miller
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