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Daniel Miller

East Tennessee – 2015 ( Self-released)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Daniel Miller

You get that homespun sense of comfort when an artist dedicates an entire record to his roots and the region where he was raised. But then there's that tingle of uncertainty that the performer might go out of his way not to cast stones at the roots of his raising.

Daniel Miller doesn't lay bare any Merle Haggard or Rodney Crowell-like tales of a hardscrabble upbringing or wry Kasey Musgraves musings. Miller does, however, offer a heartfelt, largely upbeat 11-song glimpse into the time, people and place that made him who he is. Folksy and oftentimes poignant, Miller blends smart songwriting, crackerjack musicianship, efficient production by himself and Bob Nash and steady, smooth vocals presiding over it all.

Miller, who was born and raised in east Tennessee, calls the album a "love letter" to the region of his raising. The songs occasionally slip into a full-on family affair as he sings to his wife and kids on separate cuts, but glass-half-full country tunes seem to be in style these days.

And he lays down a pulsing Waylon Jennings vibe complete with a Ralph Mooney-like steel riff from Cowboy Eddie Long on songwriting legend Harlan Howard's "Tennessee," one of two tunes not written by Miller. "Three Stars," which is dedicated to his three children, is a Louisiana Saturday night foot stomper with a fine fiddle break from Jordan Terrell-Wysocki, who also blends his talents with Long's steel work on "Lie I Believe." "The Girl in Life Magazine" is a wistful, mellow nod to his parents and 40 years of marriage. "Pigtails" has a bouncy Phil Vassar feel, while "Tomorrow's Bloodshot Eyes" is an ode to the girl who stuck my her hard-drinking fella.

Some label Miller as alt-country, others cite Americana, and there are hints of both. Simply put, Miller plays good country music, and "East Tennessee" is a wonderful look into his life so far.