UPDATE: Jacob Miller and East Side Drag

2 Jul

Jacob Miller – Busking in the Bluegrass

You may remember Jacob Miller from a post I did in October about his Sept. 2011 release Blue Ridge Ramble. You can read it here. Ah, yes, Jacob Miller, he is that awesome bluegrass throwback with the warm voice and plucked guitar that makes you want to sit on your porch on a warm summer day with a nice cold beer and listen as the music mixes with the soughing winds and constant crickets. Yeah, well, thanks for doing my job for me. I guess I’ll just pack up my keys and come back tomorrow!

Jacob Miller, now a 22-year-old country-blues-ragtime-folk singer/songwriter/guitarist based in Portland, OR, is currently busking his way through the Northwestern United States. Back on June 22, he checked in with me to alert me of his peripatetic ways and send me the link to his new eight-track album, East Side Drag, which he released with his four-person band, The Bridge City Crooners. Here is what he wrote 10 days ago:

“Right now I’m in Wisconsin, and leave tomorrow for Minneapolis. There for two days, Sunday we leave for Montana, then north to Alaska. Should be a good trek. I’m looking forward to it, and looking forward to playing a lot along the way.”

Miller is a true musicians’ musician. If I don’t accomplish anything else with this update (which will take a glimpse at a few tracks from his album in just a moment), I hope that you take that message with you. He plays music because he loves music. Miller has the voice and skill to create a unique brand of Indie/Folk that could become widespread in this climate. But that would still require him to conform to a different style of playing, and Miller is not giving up his style. Miller, much in the vein of The Wiyos, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the late Rory Gallagher, is keeping Bluegrass music in our ears. While Miller’s first release that I reviewed focused more on independent blues, East Side Drag is an ode to fast-paced, harmonica-driven bluegrass style. And, take it from me, if you are into this type of music you will enjoy it a lot. Wait, you don’t have to take it from me, you can just listen for yourself.

East Side Drag

I actually had an issue picking three songs to profile from the album. I wanted to choose more like all of them, but I limited myself to three, starting with the title track from the album, “East Side Drag.” The first 10 seconds of the song set the mood of the album exceptionally well. Maybe it’s the kazoo. A kazoo, a scraped washboard, a bluesy guitar riff and harmonica- tell me you are not feeling like you are outside with this true jug band. There is just something about this feel-good music that sponsors thoughts of relaxing by a lake down South. Miller carries the blues riff over the fast-paced bluegrass rhythm smoothly and if you are not tapping your feet right now there must be something wrong with you! Kudos to Ben Bailey – Washboard/hollerin’ and Kyle Neumann – Harmonica for creating all those fancy noises making you tap your feet.

Jacob Miller’s cover of “Hesitation Blues,” – traditional blues song special to me because the 60’s psych/folk band the Holy Modal Rounders did a cover where they mentioned the word psychedelic (psychodelic) for the first time in a song – is intimate and smooth. I use the word smooth to describe Miller’s music a lot, and the reason I do this is because it seems effortless (which it probably is). Miller sings the song with a fun, nasally croon that echoes the intention of the song’s original authors more than 100 years ago. The lyrics are malleable and the piece is perfectly constructed for others to manipulate. Miller’s cover is one of the better versions I have heard.

I want to include this last song, “Take it Back” for a few reasons. First, it features the vocals of Joy Pearson who does a wonderful job pairing with Miller. It was also recorded on June 5th, the day before Miller and Ben Bailey hit the rails. It’s a fun piece, bluesy and quick. Pearson has a quiver in her voice that I love and her brief solo at the end is impressive. Like any good blue song, it comes and it goes, and like that Miller hit the rails to play it again somewhere else. Keep doing what you are doing and doing it well!

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