Valorie Miller

REVIEW: Valorie Miller “Only the Killer Would Know”


Valorie Miller has a new album, Only The Killer Would Know, out May 6 via Blackbird Record Label / Indie AM Gold.  The album was produced and engineered by Kayla Zuskin at the Cat’s Claw with some additional production by Landon George.  It was mixed by Bill Reynolds and mastered by Jason Kingsland.

This is deeply caring concept album with a story about the natural land and environmental poison — little eco-narratives that tell a more frightening story about toxicity seeping into the land at the hands of an indifferent chemical company.  Yet at the same time, metaphors for life, our connection to the land, and our need sometimes to run, are all also part of the story.

“Apocalachia” sets the tone for a meaningful, acoustic, slow and deeply thoughtful atmosphere.  Valorie Miller has a slight touch of a Lucinda Williams‘ style delivery, only softer and with more deliberation and light.

“Field of Flowers” serves up more of what you’re hoping for after the first song — “Leave the flowers in the ground.”  Layers of acoustics, voice, and strings, but every single note has its own space.

“Home of the Brave” starts out with calls into the abyss, and “the air in the mountains so green it’s deceiving, you’d almost believe its a garden of Eden.”  This is a song of exposure, and demons in her memory, and cemeteries and secrets.  And we’re wincing amidst the beauty.  By this point in the album, Miller emerges as genius. She’s quietly disarmed us and is now showing us the pains and wounds.

“Not For Nothin’,” asks the river to deliver her tears.  The lyrics are deeply poetic, and now that the pain is exposed, the catharsis can happen.  “Is it all for nothin’ when I cry?” And maybe the natural world will heal our wounds.

The title track “Only the Killer Would Know” is a haunting, exciting song.  “Lately there’s a monster living inside of me, all that I’ve been wanting is that remedy.” Valorie Miller’s vocals on this one strike chilling soprano chords, and the guitar solo shrugs off the gravity of the oppression the lyrical protagonist is under, with the promise of the relief of freedom. Even though the song is about health hazards of a superfund cleanup site. There can be escape.

By the time you are advanced enough in the album to find “Pearl Choker” you feel the haunting, sinister dissonant layers swirling in an atmosphere around you — “basement bunkers, broken landscapes, I haven’t returned to this day,” and there’s regret, injustice, and a beautiful voice to tell the tale.  

“Welcome to Lonesome” points out that the flowers you see and enjoy are just a fraction of all the thousands you missed.  When you’re lonesome, it’s the little pieces of nature that really capture your attention.  She’s moving on.  There’s something “yet unknown” to look forward to, at least. Bare bones music and a simple drum beat and electric guitar in its discrete place.

“Your Own Well” suggests you drink water from our own well, in a delightful metaphor for many things.

Only the Killer Would Know is nine songs with gentle depth and macabre haunted secrets.  The secret that inspired the album was the health hazards and the political and corporate coverup of a superfund cleanup site in North Carolina.   Listen to the album with that in mind.  But then listen to it again for the way it appeals universally to any twisted dangerous secret coverup and threat in life.

Musicians on the album are Valorie Miller on vocals, acoustic and electric rhythm guitar, and upright bass; Kayla Zuskin on electric and slide guitar, and organ; Landon George on drums and upright bass; Lyndsay Pruett on fiddle; Rachel Waterhouse on organ: Mike Johnson on pedal steel; Woody Wood on electric guitar and backing vocals; and Krista Shows on backing vocals.

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