John R Miller’s, Depreciated, is an Album we can all Appreciate
Review by Travis Erwin
Th album opens with “Lookin Over My Shoulder,” a song that gives off a vagabond outlaw sense of wry humor. Sometimes you gotta sneak out of town, and sometimes you gotta tiptoe back so as not to face the wrath of an ex you left behind and this track brings that out with fearful tale about a man desperate to keep his whereabouts hidden from his ex, and the result feels like pure Honky-Tonk anxiety in all the best ways.
The sad refrains of a life hard lived continues with “Borrowed Time” a track about the way fragility of our place in the world as well as the things we spend our time and money on. The bluesy down on your luck vibes work well here and the track reminds me of both Sturgill and vintage Waylon with a vocal style that also conjured thoughts of Billy Joe Shaver. This mix leaved Miller with a sound that is all his own, but still honors the voices who have obviously inspired his journey.
There is a subtle shift with the third track, “Faustina.” This track has a meandering quality like that a lost, yet interesting soul puts off. This mirrors the up and down emotions of life and the songwriting pulls you in, but it is the honest, earnest delivery that brings the words home as you take on the miles alongside a road weary traveler. Lyrically this was my favorite track on the album.
Miller also devotes a lot of attention to his home region of West Virginia and the track “Shenandoah Shakedown,” reminded me a bit of the John Prine in its ability to capture the essence and lost paradise of a geographical area. “Comin Down” is another song about the urge to go back home amid the rut of adulthood and all the rote bits of responsibility that comes with it.
Romances come and go for most of us, and “Old Dance Floor” takes us on a trip that conjures up the nostalgia of sawdust floors, cold beers, and the flicker of neon lights amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke. A classic two-step vibe carries the tune along and makes it feel like one you might have heard before even though you know that you have not.
“Motor's Fried” is a fun ode to perseverance. To pushing on even when life hits those potholes a bit too hard. Saying to hell with it and burning it all down is a urge we’ve all fought and this track is sort of the motivational speech we need to not let the trials and tribulations wear us down and throw in the towel.
Guy Clark was always one of my favorite writers and Miller’s track, “Back And Forth,” was a nice reminder that there are other strong writers out there capable of giving us music that falls in line with Clark’s brand of wit and wisdom. Clark is gone but John R Miller is part of a young guard who has picked up the torch and their talent pledges to carry it forward.
“What’s Left Of The Valley” is an instrumental with a sort of a dark brooding undertone that contrasts the higher and lighter guitar melody over the top. The piece conveys good emotion in its build and progression.
“Half Ton Van” is another tongue in cheek ode to life’s mistakes. Every musician I’ve ever known has made purchase of a road dog at some point. Sometimes it turns out to be a greyhound that gets the band where it needs to go, and sometimes it turns up to be a mongrel that bits you at every turn.
The last of the eleven track on the album is “Fire Dancer,” and lyrically this one was right there battling for favorite status. The progression of the word play pulled me along and I felt every emotion of a tale about things turning out differently than imagined. The mix of disappointment and nostalgia can be a sad one and it can lead us to take a destructive position but all we need s something to ground us or pull us back and this song very well could serve that role for those of us who have traveled down dark and dusty roads.
John R Miller is no newbie to the music world, but Depreciated, his debut with Rounder Records certainly puts his name up there with some of the best to ever pick up a pen or a guitar. No, there is nothing here that is likely to find great commercial success by Billboard or radio standards, and that is a true shame, but these are songs with grit and meaning, and in the end, those are the things that truly hold their value. That means this body of work will not depreciate, making the name of the album wryly ironic.
Travis Erwin is an author and music reviewer.
To find out more about his work follow him on Twitter @Traviserwin.