Milan Miller Timepiece MilanMillerMusic.com
Milan Miller is one of contemporary bluegrass music’s most recorded songwriters, with chartbusters Balsam Range having recorded more than fifteen of his songs across their albums. Others who have co-written and/or recorded his songs include Irene Kelley, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice, and Terry Baucom. While he hasn’t yet been named IBMA’s Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year, he certainly can’t be overlooked for very much longer.
Raised in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Miller put out a well-received album entitled Poison Cove in 2013 and followed that up with an album with Balsam Range’s Buddy Melton. Timepiece is a 6-song EP intended to get a set of songs out in a way Miller desired without interfering with his many other obligations. Terry Baucom plays banjo on three tracks as does Justin Moses, who also contributes Dobro. Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Jim Lindsey (bass), and Darren Nicholson (mandolin) accompany Miller (acoustic guitar) throughout the recording, with Buddy Melton and Adam Wright contributing harmony.
With such a concise format, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no filler on Timepiece. Three songs co-written with Beth Husband—”Timepiece,” “Isabel Gray,” and “Baby Don’t Bake”—are entirely unlike in structure, theme, and execution, and yet all sound like they could have been written thirty or seventy years ago, and—even with such variety—are decidedly bluegrass.
Within a loping melody, ill-fated bandit Charlie Price meets his comeuppance in “Timepiece,” with the band keeping better time than his pocket watch did. “Isabel Gray,” a melancholic, fiddle-rich number about an seafaring wanderer, couldn’t be more different from the light-hearted, Texas-swing, ‘kissed-off’ homage, “Baby Don’t Bake.” With these three songs, any bluegrass band worth their weight would be off to a good start song-mining.
Co-written with Thomm Jutz, “Coon Dog Cemetery” takes a gentle, slightly eerie approach to man’s best friends’ final resting place. With Jutz and Glenn Simmons, Miller finishes his EP with “I Wish,” a bluegrass ballad that doesn’t get overly sappy: still, it is a bit sappy, and one can’t argue about that since this type of song seems universally popular within the modern bluegrass field.
Rising above these five strong songs is “Brody White,” co-written with Jeff McClellan. With the first verse put to bed, one knows that a father’s retribution will be swift and final. With an attention to detail reminiscent of Chris Knight (think “Down The River” meets “Rita’s Only Fault,” but with a stand-up dad), this song is stellar, and has immediately become my new favourite.
Timepiece is a strong showcase of Milan Miller’s songwriting. Moreover, it serves as evidence of his capabilities as a bluegrass singer. I don’t know if Miller aspires to being a bandleader—I suspect he doesn’t—but based on Timepiece, I’d step up to buy a ticket.