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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. 

        Maurice Hope  

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April 2018

Courtney Marie Andrews
100 pts.
May Your Kindness Remain
Loose Music
Mary Gauthier
59 pts.
Rifles And Rosary Beads
In the Black Records
Caleb Caudle
49 pts.
Crushed Coins
Cornelius Chapel Records
Western Centuries
48 pts.
Songs From The Deluge
Free Dirt Records
Vivian Leva
44 pts.
Time is Everything
Free Dirt Records
Ed Romanoff
42 pts.
The Orphan King
Pinerock Records
Grant Peeples
41 pts.
Settling Scores vol. 2
Joan Baez
32 pts.
Whistle Down The Wind
Proper Records
Jeb Barry and the Pawn Shop Saints
29 pts.
Texas, etc...
Sam Morrow
29 pts.
Concrete and Mud
Forty Below Records
Chris Smither
27 pts.
Call Me Lucky
Signature Sounds
Michael McDermott
26 pts.
Out From Under
Continental Song City
John Prine
24 pts.
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records
Mary Chapin Carpenter
23 pts.
Sometimes Just The Sky
Lambent Light Records
Dean Owens
22 pts.
Southern Wind
At The Helm
6 String Drag
21 pts.
Top of The World
Schoolkids Records
Haley Heynderickx
21 pts.
I Need To Start A Garden
Mama Bird Recordings
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
21 pts.
Tearing At The Seams
Stax Records
Abe Partridge
20 pts.
Cotton Fields And Blood For Days
Skate Mountain
Adam James Sorensen
20 pts.
Dust Cloud Refrain
Continental Song City
Ben Reel
20 pts.
Land Of Escape
B REEL Records
Chip Taylor
20 pts.
Fix Your Words
Train Wreck Records
Kesia Nagata
20 pts.
Looking For Horses
Caramal Productions
Sheesham & Lotus & 'Son
20 pts.
Clear The Table
SepiaPhone Records
18 pts.
Lord of the Desert
Okehdokee Records
Marlon Williams
18 pts.
Make Way for Love
Dead Oceans

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