First impressions can be deceiving. And given the fact that certain members of the Ben Miller Band resemble extras from a newer version of a "Mad Max" movie, that impression is all the more striking. Nevertheless, it's the music that provides the most indelible image, and indeed, the Ben Miller Band's fifth album is as diverse as it is distinctive.
With a revamped line-up and several tricks up their collective sleeve, "Choke Cherry Tree" finds the Joplin, Mo. band varying their template by adding new tones and possibilities to their already sturdy roots regimen. Clearly, no two songs sound even remotely the same, and so it's no surprise that its sheer variety leaves the most formidable impression. That's evident from the forlorn opening wail of the ironically entitled "Nothing Gets Me Down" and the ominous intro and soaring sentiments of "Redwing Blackbird," to the shout and stomp of "Life of Crime" and the various upbeat exhortations which fall in-between. Produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists - whose multi-instrumental contributions serve this ever-shifting template well - "Choke Cherry Tree" is an album that succeeds best by keeping listeners guessing, and giving them plenty to relish in the process.
That said, in avoiding easy typecasting, the Ben Miller Band defy any notion that a heartland ensemble has to play by the rules. The snappy send-up of "Sketchbook" sounds like a hillbilly hoedown filtered through overarched environs. Likewise, some of these songs are so drenched with drama, it's hard to tell where the frenzy ends and the sentiment begins.
In the end, credit the Ben Miller Band for successfully navigating away from the tried and true. There's is an example of originality in its most fertile form.