Country music has long been characterized by its familial ties with the next generation being sought after to carry on the traditions that have been rooted and passed down through the years. Children of country music stars that pursue a musical career themselves are often looked upon as a vessel to propel the tradition forward; and from time to time are presumptively compared to the output of their progenitors. Dean Miller, the son of the great Roger Miller, has carved his own path in keeping up with the family tradition, becoming a country music singer-songwriter who has released a handful of recorded collections of his own music, as well as penning songs recorded by the likes of George Jones, Trisha Yearwood, and Jamey Johnson. Miller’s latest record 1965, his first album of new material since the release of 2014’s ‘Til You Stopped Getting Up, is a welcome addition to his discography and stands out to me as one of my favorite new records that I have heard this year.
The title of the album comes from the year that Miller was born and the contents contained within reflect the musical landscapes of his upbringing, combining several different styles of country music, such as Tex-Mex and Western swing, with his accomplished songwriting which serves as the centerpiece of the album itself. On one hand a reflection of where he has been and on the other a dialogue of the world he inhabits today, 1965 is a personal and reflective exploration for Dean Miller as a musician, songwriter, and storyteller.
Kicking the album off is the title track that recalls images and nostalgia for a simpler time, in this instance, the year in which Miller was born: 1965. The song acts as a proposal from the narrator to his significant other to escape their worries for a night of blissful ignorance as they pretend they are back in the year 1965. With references to a time when country music was at an artistic peak, the song namedrops the likes of Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette, and conjures up a hopeful façade that is all the more poignant because of the turbulent landscape of the world in 2020. The instrumentation of the inaugural track possesses a more refined rock-oriented sound, but first-time listeners should not be mistaken for it is just one of the many styles being served off of Miller’s diverse musical palette.
“The Will, the Way, and the Want To,” the second song on the album, kicks off to a rollicking start with an energetic drum beat and excellent use of a backing organ. The song deals with the narrator’s drive to break down the barriers and overcome the obstacles between him and the woman of his desire. Harkening back to the thumping country hits of the 90s, “The Will, the Way, and the Want To” demonstrates Miller’s versatility as a writer and performer as he begins to transcend musical styles over the course of the album.
Miller is without a doubt a well-traveled man. The environments and landscapes that he has traversed are seeped into the instrumentation and lyrical narratives contained on the record. Songs such as “Los Angelese” and “Ireland” conjure up vivid images of their subjects from a first-hand perspective. Miller’s brilliant songwriting is on full display in “Los Angelese,” where he relays the story of a woman who crashes and burns in Los Angeles after going there to pursue a career as a movie star. The song “Ireland” acts as a love letter to the North Atlantic island with references to its beautiful scenery and recollections of its cities for which Miller has a deep appreciation. Propelled to beautiful heights by the inclusion of a native flute and a gorgeous fiddle solo, “Ireland” stands as one of my favorite songs on the album.
Speaking of environments making an impact on the instrumentation on the album, the songs “Baby” and “Undying Flame” utilize two important subgenres of country music that directly correlates to the land of Miller’s upbringing. With a salsa beat recalling the Tex-Mex sound found along our country’s southern border, “Baby” is a romantic number brought to life with the accompaniment of a trumpet and a Mexican guitarrón. Miller was born in Los Angeles but was raised around the cities of Santa Fe and San Antonio which are known for their musical melting pots of Mexican and American influences. The closing track, “Undying Flame” puts twin fiddles front and center with a strong Western swing feel very reminiscent of the sound that attracted people to dance halls around Texas, California, and Oklahoma during the 1930s and 1940s. Miller sounds right at home with that sound for it evokes three prominent backdrops of his life narrative – Oklahoma being the state of his father’s upbringing.
Other highlights on the record include “Cold to The Touch,” “If It Makes You Blue,” and “Wild Eyed World.” All three songs exhibit different sides of Miller’s musicality with “Cold to the Touch” leaning into bluesy country territory, “If It Makes You Blue” being an old school country weeper with a beautiful harmony part, and the timely “Wild Eyed Word” acting as a commentary on the times we are in. Overall, I think Dean Miller’s 1965 solidifies his abilities as a multifaceted artist and demonstrates that he is carving out his own path on his musical journey.
1965 was recorded at Omnisound, Sound Emporium, Beaird Music Group, and The Mix Mill Studio – all in Nashville, Tennessee. The album was produced in its entirety by Dean Miller. You can listen to 1965 wherever you stream your digital music.
Dean Miller – 1965 (2020)
- The Will, the Way and the Want To
- Los Angelese
- Cold to the Touch
- Way Back When
- River Road
- If It Makes You Blue
- Wild Eyed World
- Undying Flame