Daydream believer

Pete Miller debuts with Shake the Dawn
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  May 19, 2010

Long a young songwriter with buzz, Pete Miller has been woodshedding with Eric Bettencourt all winter working on a debut record that sees the light of day this weekend. Six full songs strong (plus a 30-second coda) and produced much like a big-band album, this is solo work fleshed out by some good studio efforts so that the songs take center stage, but there are a lot of nice individual performances.

The constants are Miller and his acoustic guitar, which opens just about every track, with various other mostly acoustic instruments joining him to build crescendos and tension that aptly support the material. Chuck Gagne (the Lucid) does that especially well on the drums in the opening “All That’s Real,” the most poppy of the folk-rock tunes here. The drums are usually mixed pretty far to the back and not mic’d overly close, so Gagne can start quiet and strong-arm his way to the starts of verse, cresting with a cymbal hit that introduces Miller’s first word. With an organ drone and warm stand-up bass from Colin Winsor, Miller’s breathy tenor floats above with good separation and a progressing chorus that takes a love interest wishing to fly and helps make it happen.

Tim Garrett’s cello is also pretty instrumental to the sound here, creating with the bass a fat-bottomed foundation that carries Miller well when he decides to get vampy and jazzy on “To See Your Eyes.” He gives a chunky sense of urgency to “Daydreamer,” a tune where Miller shows off the singer/songwritery Australian accent that can happen when singers are smirking at you. Bettencourt adds good flavor here with multiple string tracks and Will Evans’s mandolin is a good crisp counterpoint.

Sara Hallie Richardson, whose solo work I really like, enters late for harmony vocals on “Daydreamer,” but their voices just don’t resonate well together, both of them somewhat thin and airy here. Someone more full-bodied might have been better, or Miller could have dropped down and ceded the melody to Richardson an octave higher. The most successful back-up vocals here are probably Monique Bidwell’s in “Shake My Bones,” but that’s also the song where Miller’s vocals have the most body and force so there’s more of a back-up role to play. It’s good he decided to include that song, really, as it’s stripped down to just Miller and his guitar for the majority of the piece and it shows he’s not solely a studio construction.

And it’s more than the song title that reminds me of Emilia Dahlin’s Rattle Them Bones, with similar percussive delivery and flair. I like the Chris Martin falsetto here, too. It works less well elsewhere.

Miller shows good vocal flexibility in general, though. Sometimes he affects a G Love-style soul croon (with some Christian Hayes thrown in), as on the finish of “Shoes,” or the opening of “You.” Sometimes he’s more sultry, like “Eyes,” which also gets a nice guest spot from Rustic Overtone Ryan Zoidis, whose saxophone is contrasted with Bettencourt’s electric slide guitar chimes, which lend an edgy vibe and keep the song from getting syrupy.

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