You knew he had to show up on this list at some point didn’t you?
Scott Miller is the one artist I’ve written about more than any other at this site. He’s been very good to me during my time in Knoxville, and he’s been very good to this website as well. Heck, he even agreed to let me use a lyric from one of his songs as the title for the site. That song, of course, is “I Made a Mess of This Town” (you can listen to it in the “About Me…” section on the right-hand side of the page) from this album… 2001’s Thus Always to Tyrants.
In fact, I’m not really sure what else I can say about Scott Miller and The Commonwealth that I haven’t already said before. I can, however, use this album as a vehicle to illustrate exactly why Scott is one of my favorite aritsts.
To me, the most interesting aspect of Scott’s music has always been his ability to write songs that deal with a wider range of topics than many other songwriters. He embraces self-destruction on the rocking “Absolution,” laments lost love on “Loving That Girl,” and muses on family dysfunction on “Daddy Raised a Boy.” The latter song being one of the most well written tunes in Scott’s catalogue. It shares a similar theme with Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In the Cradle” in that the sins of the father eventually become the sins of the son.
“Now when I look into my father’s eyes,
We both see something we can recognize.
He sees a young man who’s lost his way.
I look at him I swear I see the same.”
Where Scott really changes things up sonically and thematically, though, is on a two song stretch in the middle of the album. In the midst of an album full of up-tempo guitar rockers, Scott slows things down for two Civil War period pieces in “Dear Sarah” and “Highland County Boy.” “Dear Sarah” is an old fashioned string band number based on letters written by one of Scott’s ancestors to his beloved while he served as a soldier in the War. It’s a love song, but it’s a love song wrapped inside a history lesson.
Scott’s sneaky that way. He holds degrees in American History and Russian & Soviet Studies from the highly prestigious College of William & Mary. He’s written songs about The Civil War and World War II. He’s even written one song that is nothing but a musical biography of the great Tennessee and Texas statesman Sam Houston. He’ll make you learn something if you aren’t paying attention…
…Then he’ll sing a song about why he hates babies, tell a crass joke on stage, call himself a dipshit (one of his favorite words to describe himself), and shatter whatever illusion he’s built. That’s the true dichotomous nature of Scott Miller and his music, and it’s in fine display on this album.
Take the final two songs on this disc for instance. The album closing “Is There Room on the Cross for Me” is a gospel drenched piano number that ends the proceedings on a solemn and somber note. The song itself is prayer for God to bring some peace to the singer’s soul as he, “cannot bear this world alone.” Very touching. Very dignified.
The song before that? A fire breathing rocker called “Goddamn the Sun.”
Ladies and Gentlemen… Scott Miller.