REVIEW: Rhett Miller’s “The Messenger” Will Groove Your Heart

Reviews

Rhett Miller of Old 97s has released another new solo album The Messenger (ATO Records), produced by Sam Cohen (Bejamin Booker, Kevin Morby).  Throughout the record, Cohen and Miller provide stories, melodies and embellishments via guitars and piano, while the rhythm section grooves your heart out with Brian Betancourt (Benjamin Booker) on bass and Ray Rizzo (Bob Weir, Josh Ritter) on drums.

The album opens with a powerful, catchy song “Total Disaster” that taps into the collective unconscious with the kind of inexplicable quality that renders it instantly familiar; you’ll wonder whether you’ve known it all your life.  It opens with a direct command from the drums, bouncy bass and low snappy guitar, and this: “I took the high road once, it was lonely; I found the low road much more fun.”  Everything about this song is a hit, from the rhythms, to the keys and guitars, to the intelligent translatable lyrics. He even references the myth of Sisyphus. It could really be a “mic drop” moment; Miller doesn’t have to do anything more; success has been achieved.

But there is more.  “Did I Lose You At I Love You” is an honest love song about the game of hide and seek we often play with fears of intimacy. As the lyrical protagonist worries he’s lost the object of his affection with his open, perhaps too soon, declaration of feelings, we worry along with him that he might be right.

“Wheels” features a moving bass line by Betancourt in lockstep with Rizzo’s uncluttered, heavy hitting drumming that carries the song, and all the while, probing guitar tones reverberate their languid punctuated questions. Cohen has the bass featured again as it bounces along with keyboard triplets in “I Used to Write in Notebooks” as a nostalgic comparison of the past to now: “I used to write in notebooks… it’s not the same world, I’m not the same guy…I wonder when I’m gonna die.” And as you continue to listen to song after song on this album, each one is its own bastion of strength.

The album is undoubtedly the loosest, grooviest addition yet, to Rhett Miller’s indie rock catalogue. Get your copy here:  https://www.rhettmiller.com/ and follow the tour dates with Miller solo opening for Old 97s, which begin next week, right here: http://old97s.com/shows

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