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Ben Miller Band: Choke Cherry Tree

Ben Miller Band has been at this since 2005. They hail from Joplin, Missouri in the heart of the Midwest, and their music unabashedly up front and honest. They have a few albums under their belts at this point. Most notably an album aptly dubbed Record for Joplin in which the album is a tribute to all of those that suffered through the devastating tornado in 2011. The band is comprised of founding members Ben Miller (guitar and vocals) and Scott Leeper (one string washtub bass, drummer, and background vocal). Rachel Ammons (violin, cello, guitar, electric cactus, and lead / background vocals) Bob Lewis (guitar, bass, and drums) these are the newest members of this quartet that fuses all kinds of sounds to make up Ben Miller Band.

The album, Choke Cherry Tree is layered with this fuzz electric guitar that through the first half of the album just laces right into you. In fact, the first few tracks are like this. Songs that are grimy and gritty and personal. Before they changed labels their sound was dubbed “Ozark Stomp,” and that label fits this well. Heavy on the percussion and that keeps it all in line and everything transitions around that heavy bass drum. About mid-way through the album, it lightens a little and they bring you Joplin, Missouri’s acoustic sound. Transitioning from the heavy guitar and drum to a more uniquely them brand of Americana, is what they lay out for the final half of the record. They rock it.

I enjoy how the album is divvied up sort of like a pie. Yet all of the songs have that Ozark stomp. The only one that does not is “Lighthouse.” I like this song for the lyrics. The idea of the person in the song thinking of life through the prism of a lighthouse, or even the idea of life in general being something like a lighthouse. Hell, I probably have no idea what it is about but the song stopped me for a second. They quieted the stomp and let their playing really shine, and least I forget the vocals that get their moment in the sun as well. One song where this is telling is “Redwing Blackbird” where Rachel just dominates the song, and her unique voice shines brightly through the percussive drive and screaming violin.

Ben Miller Band is a new band for me. The album lies in a unique position of being something new and something refreshing. They found a way to fuse some elements from their roots and from rock and roll which is now being called “Mudstomp” presented to you by Ben Miller Band. The lyrics aren’t contrived or inauthentic as some music can be; rather, these folks simply take their unique ideas and experiences from life and try to translate that to their songs. I would recommend this album to just about anyone willing to give a unique sound a chance.

Ben Miller Band will be at The Southgate House Revival this Wednesday with The Midwesterns and what better way to listen than to go see them in person. If their shows are anything like this album you will be in for quite a ride!

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