Rhett Miller's solo work has been considerably different than the music he's made with his band the Old 97's, to the point that they seem to be the product of two different personalities. They both sing a lot about problems with women, but the Rhett Miller who fronts the Old 97's sounds like a regular guy from Texas with an uncommon degree of self-awareness that fails him when he sees a pretty girl, while the other Rhett Miller aspires to be British and often sounds like a pretty boy hipster, albeit one who is far better grounded than most of his peers. The Interpreter, however, is the first Rhett Miller album that sounds like these two hemispheres exist in the same mind; most of The Interpreter was recorded live at the L.A. night spot Largo as Miller sings a set of covers with just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment. (Jon Brion sits on piano on several numbers, and two studio cuts close out the program.) The set list suggests the two Millers drew it up as a team, with tunes by Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Tweedy sitting comfortably beside songs by David Bowie, Ray Davies, and Elvis Costello. However, the guy singing is clearly the man from the Old 97's, even when he's belting out "Queen Bitch" or "Waterloo Sunset," and the fellow's unaffected enthusiasm makes this album memorable. (He also finds more folky twang in the Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation" and Robyn Hitchcock's "Cynthia Mask" than one might imagine.) The Interpreter documents one night in the life of a man who sings with skill and passion, but is also clearly an eclectic music fan who loves all these tunes, and hearing him occasionally gush about the greatness of the material adds no small charm to the performances. No matter which Rhett Miller steps up to the microphone, he knows a great tune when he hears one, and he shares 14 favorites on The Interpreter that please fans of either side of his career.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming