amy millan

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[Forgive any spelling errors (if I missed something). I was up half the night with an annoying almost-two-year-old.]

Rhett Miller
The Believer
The Verve Forecast
Fireflies (with Rachel Yamagata)

It’s no secret how much I love alt-country, and Rhett Miller embodies everything that’s right about it. No pretensions here (except perhaps in the area of his hair and his purple suit), no tarting up country to make it sound like something else. No screwing around with the format, damn it. It doesn’t need tarting up; it just needs broken hearts and love and sadness and Miller’s signature voice on “My Valentine” mourning, you say you love me / but you treat me unkind.

I read that the title track was also written as a reaction to Elliott Smith’s suicide, something that might interest all you Smith fans. Miller addresses a variety of themes, including the adorably cheesy “Question,” which ends the disc with on a note of sweet optimism.

Karsh Kale
Broken English
Six Degrees
Dancing At Sunset

“Broken English” is like the ultimate mashup, where instead of combining two songs, Kale combines three cultures. And of course it’s all original, so no one gets sued. And it’s perfect for the car, the grocery store, or whatever mundane errand needs a little spice.

Kale called the disc “Broken English” in reaction to the assumption that some people made about him — that he is Indian, so he couldn’t possibly speak English well. They are, of course, wrong, and Kale laughs at their shallowness with his flawless prose: People want to be free / free to decide / free to follow the wind / to see what they may find.

Casiotone For the Painfully Alone
Toby Take A Bow

Casiotone For the Painfully Alone has no equivalent; if you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and if you’re not, you’re off listening to something else anyway. It must be nice to be free of anxiety of influence; the only previous releases Ashworth has to be worried about are his own.

The album is just full of standalone pieces, each one telling a story: the strange, defiant Toby; Bobby Malone, who has to go back to his folks; the girl who wishes last night had never happened; the boy who is desperate to know where his lover has come back from. Ashworth (and sometimes Jenn Herbinson, and a rotating cast of backup) bring you into the story, and then part of it stays with you. Or perhaps you never leave it.

Amy Millan
Honey From the Tombs
Arts & Crafts
Come Home Loaded Roadie

From beginning to end, Millan spins a perfect ambience of country-rock-folk around the listener. Whiskey is mentioned, and broken hearts, and someone is called “baby.” I love it; I love every minute of it. It’s only as far down on the list as it is because it’s not new in any way. But it’s so flawless that I will probably end up listening to it most often next year.

Millan’s voice is perfect for the material; when she sings, what’s the use / you go to war at daybreak / so pour me up another before bed, you’re at the bar with her and she’s telling you all about it, and you understand perfectly, even if you have no broken heart of your own. What I’m trying to say is, she brings out the whiskey in us all.

Dreamt For Light Years In the Belly Of A Mountain
See the Light

Mark Linkous was creating rock tinged with alt-country before it had a cool moniker, which makes it even sweeter that he can turn out such a beautiful piece of poetry eleven years after “vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.” If you overlook Sparklehorse for any reason, you are missing out on North Carolina’s best export.

Whatever Linkous has gone through in the past few years, it seems it’s only made him stronger. I stayed in a lake of fire / my bed was an ancient pyre, he sings in “See the Light,” and his poetic gift turns the music from simply mic-whispering into something almost oracular, foretelling your future in his own burning experience.

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Amy Millan

(Thanks to BT reader J.M., my Canadian musical consultant, for pointing me in the direction of this artist.)

I don’t feature enough female singers. I have a straight woman’s bias towards my indie rock — I like to hear those pretty boys wailing away about lost love and whatnot. So let me remedy here by mentioning Amy Millan.

Ms. Millan is a Canadian darling, of course, what with those other little bands she happens to be part of (Broken Social Scene and Stars). Those crazy kids, what will they think of next? Well, the new trend seems to be releasing a solo album … blah blah blah Jenny Lewis blah blah blah. Let’s get our inevitable comparisons out of the way.

I didn’t like “Rabbit Fur Coat” for two reasons — the first is, Lewis’s voice sounded so thin that I spent most of every song wondering if it was gonna crack. The second reason was, outside of “Handle With Care,” all the songs blended into each other in an orgy of perfect sameness. I found it excessively boring, like she just stripped all the good Rilo Kileyness away and then we were left with … Rilo Lite.

“Honey From the Tombs” is much more solid. Millan’s voice has a real bluesy tinge to it, and she had the smarts to add a wonderful bluegrass band as backup. The music also doesn’t sound like Stars or BSS, which is a bonus, because a solo ought to be a solo … something different from what you did in your band, right? Or what’s the point?

Millan has a great turn of phrase; the guitar pickin’ is pretty fantastic; and there’s a, dare I say non-Canadian, sense of ambience. One can definitely imagine her singing these songs in a Texas country bar, backed by fuzzy red light, while a burly guy with “Lucinda” tattooed on his arm sobs manfully into his pint of Miller. Or maybe it is Canadian, and it’s a bar in Toronto, and the burly guy is drinking Labatt’s. He’s still sobbing, believe me.

Amy Millan Site/Label (Arts & Crafts) | Myspace

[These tracks have been removed. You can contact me if you’d like a copy.]

Amy Millan – Skinny Boy
Amy Millan – Ruby II
Amy Millan – Losin’ You