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Miller and the Other Sinners: Rise
by George Graham
(Independent Release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/26/2020)
Blues, soul, and funk in their classic forms have proved that are not going anywhere. There seem to be more emerging groups than ever drawing on 1960s-era soul and funk along with classic and traditional blues influence. As I have observed on a number of occasions, it almost seems to be a reaction to, and perhaps is meant as an antidote to the computer-sequenced, sampled music and the robotic-like auto-tuned and pitch-altered vocals on a lot of commercial pop. The classic forms have shown their durability, with music that just seems to sound better as the decades pass.
This week, we have another practitioner of blues and soul revival with a dollop of African American Gospel, David Michael Miller from the Buffalo, New York, area, and his band Miller and the Other Sinners. They have just released their first album under that group name, called Rise.
David Michael Miller has been a fixture on the Buffalo music scene for a number of years, serving as lead vocalist and front man for a group called Dive House Union for six years. In 2014, he released his first solo album Poisons Sipped and followed that up with Same Soil. The people he used for those albums became the core of the somewhat rotating cast of characters who are Miller and the Other Sinners. They have been performing live under that name since 2015. The new album shares a similarity of sound with Miller’s solo recordings, with soulful, often energetic songs with a good helping of horn arrangements.
Miller calls new release Rise an EP, though at 38 minutes long, it is longer than some recordings labeled as full length albums. It delivers a healthy collection of the soul, blues, Southern-rock and Gospel that is Miller’s stock in trade. As mentioned, the personnel varies from one track to the next, with a couple each of drummers, bassists and keyboard players. Miller handles all the guitars, including by overdubbing. When the mood turns to Gospel, a small choir is brought in to add a further degree of righteousness. And with the Gospel influence, the lyrics can turn to being uplifting.
However, the opening track is called Juke Jive It, and the admonition is to party at a juke joint. The horn-laden band cooks in a funky groove. <<>>
In a rather different mood lyrically is Back Into It, which leads off with a crowd chanting, and is a soulful call to action, reminiscent of Marvin Gaye. <<>>
A particularly memorable song is called Carve, which is another composition with a spiritual bent. It’s an interesting arrangement with an acoustic rhythm and some strong slide guitar work by Miller. <<>>
Also showing lyrical influence from spirituals is a track called Washin’ Waters. It’s a nice mix of funk and Gospel influence. <<>>
The album’s longest track is called Sometimes You’re Down, another song that attempts to spread the message of uplift. Miller and the band give it a slow, tasteful arrangement. <<>> The Gospel-style choir makes its appearance. <<>>
The title track Rise gets into some swamp rock with another injection of Gospel, again complete with the choir. <<>>
The album closes with its only cover tune, their interpretation of the ZZ Top song Waitin’ for the Bus, which the band serves up in a driving funky version with opportunities for organ and sax solos. <<>>
Rise, the new release by the Buffalo-based band Miller and the Other Sinners, with David Michael Miller, is another strong affirmation of the vitality of the blues and soul scene among younger musicians more than fifty years after the genre’s initial heyday. Like Victor Wainwright and the Train, whose own album we recently featured on this review series, Miller and the Other Sinners, adds their own original vision to the classic format, but really understands the music’s basics, and takes full advantage, with first-rate musicianship and good use of the horn arrangements. The presence of the Gospel choir is a nice touch on Rise.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The balance is good, and the mix is punchy most of the time, but there is some occasional saturation on the lead vocal, wiping out the dynamics and messing up the clarity. The overall dynamic range of the album is hardly stellar with the usual over-compression to jack up the volume.
If you have been a fan of classic soul and R&B, or you are just getting into it as a reaction to the soul-less synthetic pop that currently saturates the commercial media, there are plenty of alternatives these days. Miller and the Other Sinners’ new release Rise is a strong addition to the genre.
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