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Joplin, Missouri-bred Ben Miller Band is an eclectic bunch if there ever was. Led by Miller and co-founder member, Scott Leeper augmented by two new members in Rachel Ammons and Smilin’ Bob Lewis, Choke Cheery Tree sees the retooled line-up put out the band’s third album.
After a more than pleasant opening with “Nothing Gets Me Down” I believed a wee treasure had landed on my lap, only for my hopes be crushed through the totally raw inclusions “Akira Kurosawa” and “One more Time” before sanity was restored with the pulsating roots fuelled “Big Boy”. A small posse of players and harmony vocalists aids the band’s playing. The attraction for the music swings like a pendulum due to a few hit and miss tracks, for to my mind Miller's talent is better served when he keeps it spare and subtle (because he writes a good lyric).
Getting into a groove, a style and vibe I great admire Miller works his way, majestically, through the accordion warmed chugging paced “Trapeze”. With him leaning every so slightly towards the music of The Band he capitalises on it with the likewise (albeit this time he becomes more involved and brooding as piano is a strong influence) “Lighthouse”; “Redwing Blackbird” has Rachel sing lead and with close harmonies, and forceful rhythm section and the theme of never giving up it is a real band effort.
They band get down and funky for “Life Of Crime”, and though solid it is only ever going to be a goodtime album track, as for “Sketchbook” is contains a dash, a merriment. Set to get you feet tapping and body pulsating to a rhythm mixed with fiddle the quick paced story that takes the listener through a wedding, family trauma, and Wal-Mart at four in the morning before they porcupine a voodoo doll in the desert.
Closing up the recording you have lazy paced ballad “My Own Good Time” followed by the mystical “Mississippi Cure” as darkness falls, like unrelenting rain submerges the tune. Interesting, as you have keyboards pound out a beat on top of what is an already full-bodied, live time sound to lend itself to a cinematic production.
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