Opening disclaimer: I’ve known Dan Miller for the past 20 years, ever since he moved east from California to southwest Virginia in 1998.
Dan had uprooted his young family and bought a home in the thriving metropolis of Hiawassee, VA to be closer to the bluegrass scene, as he had recently launched Flatpicking Guitar magazine, now a staple in the diet of thousands of guitar fiends. The plan was to replicate the success he had achieved previously in the martial arts publishing world.
While serving as an officer in the US Marine Corps, from the time he graduated from the Naval Academy in 1982 until he resigned his commission in ’92, Miller made a personal study of Pa Kua Chang, a Chinese method of self defense. As a civilian, Dan created the Pa Kua Chang Journal, a magazine for students and masters alike, and offered supplies and teaching materials to his readership.
That magazine was sold in 1997, just a year after Flatpicking Guitar was introduced, and the Millers moved to Virginia one year later, setting up a business office in Pulaski where it remains to this day. Dan followed the same model as his prior venture, publishing bi-monthly, and creating and marketing a wide array of instructional methods, concert recordings and other learning materials for flatpickers.
While his trusty staff managed the mail order (and now online) business, Miller traveled the country, offering merch and promoting the magazine at festivals across the country. After his marriage dissolved, Dan followed his two young daughters back to California to maintain his role as a doting father, while still touring the country, increasingly as a performer as much as a rep for Flatpicking Guitar, appearing with Brad Davis and Tim May.
I say all that to say this… After being a notable fixture in the guitar world this past 18 years, Dan Miller has recently released his first-ever recording, Going Through A Phase, which finds him in the role of singer, songwriter and lead guitarist. He is ably supported by Tim May on banjo and reso-guitar, Robert Bowlin on fiddle, and Brad Davis on rhythm guitar, mandolin, bass and harmony vocals. Jane Accurso also sings harmony. The album is released on the magazine’s FGM Records label, one started several years ago to make recordings available from notable pickers.
All but one of the tracks are Miller originals, with several co-writes with Davis. The lone cover is Grandpa Was A Carpenter from John Prine, and you can hear Prine’s influence on many of the new tracks as well. This is particularly true of Bring Me Back, a call to live in a simpler time, and Staying Close To Home, which tells of a talented roper and rider who decides that home is the place to be.
Most of the songs are arranged in a bluegrass style, like Ida Jane and Ramblin’ Boy & Stay Home Girl, with a few taking on more of a blues or old time feel. And of course, there are a couple of flatpick instrumentals, Goddess Waltz and Sara’s Dance, which demonstrate that Dan has picked up a thing or two while running the magazine. Another instrumental, Spring Valley, is done here as a lovely mandolin tune.
Miller has a pleasant voice, again owing a bit to the influence of John Prine and, as is often the case, delivers his original material with conviction. All in all, this is a comfortable album of homespun songs.
Special kudos to Brad Davis, who played so many of the instruments, engineered in his BDM Studios, and co-produced with Miller. It’s long been established that Brad is a monster in every area of music, and his work here does nothing to diminish that record.
Going Through A Phase can be purchased on CD from The Flatpicking Guitar Mercantile, and as a download from CD Baby, where audio samples for all 12 tracks can be found. It will also be available in iTunes in the next few days.