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Taken from Entertainment Focus (Oct 05, 2023)

John R Miller - 'Heat Comes Down' album review

by James Daykin

Credit: GardeniaPublicity
Credit: GardeniaPublicity

In the realm of songwriters, where vulnerability meets eloquence, resides a rare breed of artists capable of unraveling profound truths about the human condition. Among these gifted few is John R Miller, a West Virginia-born troubadour whose music delves into the depths of introspection. With poetic finesse and musical prowess, Miller weaves tales of sleepless nights, nostalgic daydreams, existential dread, and keen observations of the troubled world around him. His work not only conveys a haunting unease but also offers a comforting reassurance born from shared catharsis. UK fans will be able to see Miller unveil his artistry next year as he will be over on these shores as support on the Tyler Childers tour.

In 2021, Miller made his mark on the music scene with his debut album 'Depreciated' released under Rounder Records. The album garnered acclaim, with No Depression describing it as a creation that "casually saunters towards a full existential breakdown that'll leave you gasping for air". However, it is on this subsequent album, 'Heat Comes Down' that Miller truly solidifies his status as a profound musical storyteller.

Produced in collaboration with the talented duo of Andrija Tokic and John James Tourville, renowned for their work with artists such as Sunny War and The Deslondes, the album was crafted during a transformative three-day session at The Bomb Shelter, Tokic's esteemed Nashville studio. During these recording sessions, Miller was joined by members of his loyal live band, including drummer John Clay Burchett, guitarist J. Tom Hnatow, and fiddle player Chloe Edmonstone. The ensemble was further enriched by the musical prowess of bassist Craig Burletic and Jeff Taylor, a multi-instrumentalist celebrated for his contributions to the likes of Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello.

'Heat Comes Down' is a mesmerising journey through the human experience, a musical odyssey that transcends the boundaries of country and folk-rock. Miller, hailing from the hills of West Virginia and now based in Nashville, is not just a musician; he is a dynamic wordsmith. His ability to craft narratives that dive deep into the wells of sleepless nights, nostalgic daydreams, and existential dread is nothing short of remarkable.

The album opens with 'Nobody Has to Know Your Mind', a song that instantly immerses you in its outlaw cowboy atmosphere. The retro vibes, complemented by fiddles and steel guitars, evoke a sense of the old Nashville days. Miller's lyrics are poetic and deep, refusing to settle for clichés and instead offering a genuine, heartfelt narrative. Across the whole album Miller opens up his own failings and holds a mirror up to us all to be better. 'Crumbling Pie' picks up the tempo with its bluesy, western-infused melody. Miller explores the consequences of apathy and disconnection, incorporating religious imagery and southern wisdom into his lyrics. The song's cadence is infectious, drawing listeners into its contemplative atmosphere whilst 'Ditcher' strips down the instrumentation to deliver a raw, acoustic narrative about isolation and introspection. Miller's honesty shines through as he portrays a man avoiding the world, capturing the essence of saloon bar vibes and Wild West aesthetics.

Elsewhere, Miller's disconnection with the real world spills over into insomnia on 'Insomnia Blues', a song that delves into the struggles of sleeplessness, painting a vivid picture of haunted pasts and uncertain futures. The song's bluesy undertones, coupled with subtle organ touches, create a haunting atmosphere that lingers long after the music fades. 'Summer Lens', meanwhile, takes a nostalgic approach, delving into childhood memories and the passage of time. The plaintive fiddles and Miller's poignant lyrics create a bittersweet atmosphere, encapsulating the fleeting nature of cherished moments. Miller explores nostalgia, but not in that cliched Nashville way that many artists fall prey to, which means on 'Basements', he reflects on his musical journey, from the excitement of the first band practices to the challenges faced in the music industry. The song's authenticity and humility make it a relatable and endearing piece, encapsulating the artist's personal growth and willingness still to learn as he pledges to go, "Back down to the basement," as the circle closes from where the song began.

The pace picks up a little on the very drum-driven 'Conspiracies, Cults and UFOs' on which Miller fires off lyrics at a fair rate of knots as he uses the title as a mantra around which to build both lyrical and aural gravitas. The track builds to a searing guitar solo where the electric guitars and piano really let rip to usher us to the end of the song. Miller's inner-novelist rises to the fore on 'Harpers Ferry Moon', where a literary narrative is interwoven with a musical arrangement that complements the story's darker atmosphere and the album closes down with the very impactful 'Press On', a song that appears to encapsulate the album's overarching message of resilience and perseverance. The gospel-esque backing vocals and uplifting piano contribute to a sense of hopeful irony, reflecting the human spirit's ability to endure despite challenges.

'Heat Comes Down' is an album that reveals new layers with each listen, inviting listeners to explore its intricacies. Miller's hope of providing a salve for his audience rings true, as the universality of his songs offers comfort and solace. With this album, John R Miller has not only crafted a musical mirror into the human condition but also a manuscript that speaks to the very soul of the listener.

01. Nobody Has to Know Your Mind
02. Insomnia Blues
03. Harper's Ferry Moon
04. Ditcher
05. Crumbling Pie
06. Smokestacks on the Skyline
07. Summer Lens
08. Conspiracies, Cults & UFOs
09. Basements
10. Dollar Store Tents
11. Press On

Record Label: Rounder Records
Release Date: 6th October
Buy 'Heat Comes Down' here




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