I must admit to having felt a rush of excitement back in 2003 upon discovering Scott Miller's Upside Downside in the "hot new artists" rack at a Tower Records in Northern California. "He's really in the big leagues!" I thought. But now that he's left the comfy confines of longtime label Sugar Hill for the risky world of self-released CDs, should we be worried for him?
Not at all. In fact, for my money, For Crying Out Loud is his most purely enjoyable album ever. Rather than make the angry break-up record that typically results from a label split, Miller sounds invigorated, offering a variety of musical styles that may finally help him kick that "Americana" label. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Lyrically, as ever, Miller delivers bittersweet observations of twisted-up emotions like few other songwriters. He's a natural storyteller of complicated love stories (from "Iron Gate": "I ain't got much but I give all I have/I don't feel much and when I do it's all bad") and small-town tales (from "Sin in Indiana": "His wife was pictured in a magazine/He brought her over from the Philippines/You can see her about five o'clock/On the hood of his car on the town sidewalk").
So he's still the wordsmith. How's the music? It's all great fun, with a through line of rootsiness that travels from murder ballads ("Double Indemnity") to Southern soul ("Heart in Harm's Way") to country blues ("Sin in Indiana") to twangy pop ("I Can't Dance"). "Claire Marie" sounds like a honky-tonk Chuck Berry rave-up, and is just as joyful as that sounds. Even the sad songs might inspire toes to tap.
"I will let you down real easy," Miller sings, but with For Crying Out Loud, he most certainly keeps his promise.