Writing award-winning song lyrics instead of introspective books isn’t quite what a student might expect from their college philosophy professor. However, if you were enrolled in one of Gene Mills’s courses at Virginia Commonwealth University, you’d probably be surprised to find out that he does just that. In fact, he began writing and performing his own material in the late 1970’s. Having been married for more than 25 years to his wife Gayla (a professor at nearby Randolph-Macon College), the two began performing as a duo in 2004.
Their latest project, If Stones Could Talk, includes 12 original tracks (all written by Gene) that sit somewhere between Americana and bluegrass. Of these 12 tunes, the two instrumentals (Bright Blue Eyes and The Dying Fire) showcase Gene’s melodic guitar playing. Gayla is credited with co-writing Everyday Things, a sweet song in which her husband pledges to show his love through simple acts such as drying the dishes and making the salad at dinner.
Several other numbers within this record provide a lighthearted look at life, as well, expressing the positive viewpoints of the performers. The song Milk and Honey is a good example of Gene’s clever song writing, as its chorus states:
“We don’t need a lot of money ‘cause we don’t want what most people need. We’ll make our own land of milk and honey with a milk cow, a beehive, and some seed.”
Thriving is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek song. It seemingly starts out as a tune about the benefits of healthy living (“I got the message from the USDA, eat fruits and vegetables five times a day”), but the chorus provides a twist that lets the listener in on the fact that things aren’t quite as wonderful as they seem. When Gene sings that “vodka is made from potatoes I hear, some like theirs mashed, but I like mine clear,” you know the food pyramid is the last thing on his mind.
Other pieces like Better Late Than Never and Talking to a Stone continue the album’s overall positive feel as they advise listeners to take care of things before it becomes too late. Talking to a Stone states, “Don’t wait till you’re talking to a stone,” in regard putting off things that you could do today.
Gene’s tasteful guitar playing perfectly fits the lead vocals he provides on this album. He is accompanied by his wife’s steady bass lines and sweet backing vocals throughout. Other artists joining the effort are: Bill Evans (banjo), Ivan Rosenberg (dobro), Barry Lawson (mandolin), and Jim Skelding (fiddle).
For more information about the music of Gene and Gayla Mills find them on Facebook, or visit: www.heartpinemusic.com