2700 Pennsylvania Avenue
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Bill Miller is one of those artists who is difficult to categorize. He is a Native American singer/songwriter, born some forty-odd years ago to a Mohican father and a German mother on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in Wisconsin. Today he lives with his family in Nashville, but spends much of his time on the road. He has been lauded by the likes of Tori Amos, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and U2's Bono. It's easy to see why. He speaks directly and honestly about the Native American experience. His work on guitar, in particular, ranks him among the very best in the singer/songwriter arena. |
My first exposure to Bill Miller's music came in the form of his otherworldly playing of the courtship flute on David Wilcox's 1999 Vanguard release, Underneath. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to Wilcox about Miller's contribution. He told me that Miller put his whole body and soul into the performance, and it comes across.
Bill Miller was picked up by Vanguard Records as one of their featured artists this past year. The remarkable Ghostdance is his first release on Vanguard. It opens with a stunning instrumental piece called "Prelude (The Sun is Gonna Rise Again)," which sets a dramatic, yet hopeful tone for the work that follows. Violins, violas and cellos, along with a string bass, introduce Bill Miller and his vision of the world.
Every Mountain I Climb showcases Miller's powerful vocals and driving, dramatic guitar style. The message is one of perseverance:
He wrote The Reason for his daughter. It is a dramatic and touchingly beautiful tribute to their love and the strength of their connection.
The centerpiece of the recording is Miller's song Ghostdance. It is one of the most powerful songs I have ever heard. The melody is driven by Miller's hyperkinetic guitar, which creates both tension and great drama. The song is punctuated by a chorus of Native American chants, and one of the most beautiful sounds on record - Bill Miller playing the native courtship flute. You will remember this song long after the recording has ended.
I seem to be using words like "strength" and "power" to describe a lot of Bill Miller's work. Forgive is no exception. It speaks to the terrible things people do to one another - lying, stealing and being unfaithful - and the consequences of those actions. All we can do is forgive one another eventually. Miller's singing and playing are soft and poignant here. The Last Stand is another instrumental piece, part classic rock, part western, and all Native American. Bill Miller on courtship flute makes this special.
The level of musicianship on this recording is universally high. Kim Richey, an artist in her own right, is particularly good on backing vocals. Chris McHugh on drums, and all of the classical musicians on strings (violin, viola and cello) help make this CD the outstanding recording that it is.
Ghostdance is one of those rare listening pleasures: not only will it stir you with its musical excellence (it opens and closes with the same instrumental theme), but it will inspire you with its message of hope and resurrection as well. As the recording's final tune states, "the sun is gonna rise again." Let's hope that the sun never sets on Bill Miller's talent. He is a national treasure.