Rhett Miller

The Believer

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Rhett Miller's third solo offering, like 2002's The Instigator, is a lush collection of great melodies wrapped brightly around catchy lyrics about the same subject he's been writing about since he began fronting Old 97's. Produced by George Drakoulias -- who has worked with the Black Crowes, the Jayhawks, the Cult, Tom Petty, and Maria McKee, to name a few -- The Believer has a clear, wide-open ring. Guitars are the driving force on this set, where Miller's lilting pop voice sails and swoops, emoting sincerely (even if he is a bit overwrought in places) while Matt Chamberlain's strings, and keyboards, fill it all in. Miller has a ton of guests on the album including Gary Louris, Jon Brion, and Rachael Yamagata (who duets with Miller on the beautiful, country-tinged "Fireflies"). Producers can only do so much, though, and The Believer is a case in point. Judging by his solo material in general and The Instigator in particular, Miller writes according to a particular formula. Simple changes, lilting melodies, one topic -- he's focused but at the same time it feels, with few exceptions, that one song becomes nearly indistinguishable from another. There are exceptions, though, in the rocking "Ain't That Strange," which is stripped down, with its guitars roiling and squalling, barely contained in the mix and nearly covering the vocal. Likewise "Delicate," is anything but. It's a rock & roll song without restraint or apology. It's the exception to the rule, however. That said, there are some gorgeously crafted moments here, including the jangle pop single "Help Me, Suzanne." No Miller disc would be complete without its country-rock moments; after all, he is a Texan, and while "Fireflies" is a ballad, "Singular Girl" is a straight-up country-rock tune with a honky tonk piano and the one-two shuffle beat, yet it has a chorus worthy of Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend. The quirky metaphor -- "Talking to you girl/is like long division...." -- is a Miller trademark, and these are everywhere on this set. The Believer may be a formula recording, but it still satisfies, for the most part, on the level of what it is: a finely crafted pop/rock album. And since there are so few out there these days that even get close, it stands out and deserves a place on the shelf. It's one of those albums that in five years you will pull out of the rack, pop in the deck and be delighted with.

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