Rhett Miller is still known best as front man for alt-country die-hards the Old 97’s, but for his latest solo album, The Traveler (ATO), he teamed up with Black Prairie—a sprawling Portland quintet that began as a Decemberists side project. Black Prairie started their career with a bluegrass vibe, but more recently they’ve gravitated toward their indie-rock roots. They’re an impressively versatile band, which makes them a good fit for Miller, who always seems to be looking for new settings for his wide-grin pop songs. The Traveler adds accordion, bouzouki, mandolin, nyckelharpa, and the remarkable, underused vocal harmonies of Black Prairie fiddle player Annalisa Tornfelt, but none of it does much to change the feel of Miller’s music. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck also contributes a few overdubbed passages.
The opening track, “Wanderlust,” rides a driving two-beat groove, embroidered by twangy fiddle and fleet guitar picking, but the chorus is pure pop. Miller’s melodies are as memorable as always, including on today’s 12 O’Clock Track, “Most in the Summertime.” As much as the Old 97’s have trafficked in jacked-up honky-tonk, they’ve never varied the genre’s loud guitar sound, so working with Black Prairie has given Miller’s songs a relatively kaleidoscopic complexion. On Thursday, Miller plays a solo acoustic show at City Winery that’s billed as a “holiday extravaganza.” He’ll be joined by Nora O’Connor and Gerald Dowd, and I imagine they’ll be complementing Miller’s own tunes with Christmas warhorses.
Rob Reich, Shadowbox (BAG Production)
Mark Helias Open Loose, The Signal Maker (Intakt)
Cherrier/Aimard/Damiens et al., Boulez: Sonatine Pour Flute et Piano/Première Sonate (Erato)
King Tuff, Black Moon Spell (Sub Pop)
Chris Newman, Ghosts (Mode)