While most bluegrass albums contain at least a few updated versions of old standards, there’s also some great new original music coming out these days. Milan Miller, the writer behind recent fan favorites Caney Fork River (Balsam Range) and Pretty Little Girl from Galax (Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out), has recently released an album which consists almost entirely of his own compositions. The twelve songs on Poison Cove cover all the good bluegrass subjects – heartbreak, moonshining, mining, and more – and tell some interesting stories.
The title track is one of the album’s best. Its tale of a young boy whose simple life is changed forever when he happens upon his father’s moonshine still is compelling, and the understated, almost mellow instrumentation gives the tune a fresh, organic sound. Usually a tune with this subject matter would have a driving, banjo-heavy arrangement, but Randy Kohrs’ resonator guitar fits this track perfectly.
Another top-notch song is The Saddest Man in County Clare. Both its story and sound bring to mind Ronnie Bowman’s It’s Getting Better All the Time, and like that song, it could easily be picked up by a country artist. Although it’s set in Ireland, the simple tale of pure heartbreak is one listeners will be able to relate to. Playing Hard to Forget (co-written by Miller and James Ellis) also has a country feel, as it speaks of a man who realized just a little too late the disadvantages of taking someone for granted.
On the more bluegrass side of things is I’d Rather Be Lonesome (another cowrite, this time with Davis Raines), an anthem for anyone who’s been cheated on, with an old-school feel and the clever line “I’d rather be blue than green with jealousy.” Savin’ Up for a Cadillac is a fun, upbeat tune about a man whose idea of success hinges on the purchase of a fine automobile. The album’s closing track, Spike Island Blues, finds the singer back in Ireland, but this time locked up in prison. This is a nice addition to the long line of bluegrass prison tunes, and provides a bit of a history lesson, as well.
The one song here not penned by Miller is Swept Away. This tearful number about a flood has a stripped-down arrangement, and was written by the album’s bass player, Mark Winchester. Miller fills the lead vocal with just the right amount of pain as he sings of watching the water take away someone he loved.
On this album, the songwriting is front and center. While the instrumentation is well-done throughout, the arrangements are, in general, fairly understated, serving to support the singer and the lyrics rather than just show off the musicians’ skill. Miller does a fine job with the lead vocals, putting emotion just where it’s needed, and also contributes guitar, mandolin, and resonator guitar on various tunes. In addition to Winchester and Kohrs, he is joined by Scott Vestal (banjo), Seth Taylor (mandolin and banjo), and Ron Stewart (fiddle), among others.
Both bluegrass and country artists searching for new tunes won’t go wrong with Poison Cove, nor will those who enjoy well-written original bluegrass music with a dose of country influences in the style of Ronnie Bowman and Larry Cordle.
For more information on Miller, visit his website at www.milanmillermusic.com. Poison Cove can be purchased from CDBaby, Amazon, and iTunes.