Shelley Miller Might Just be ’That Bessie Smith Chick’
Dance in Your Living Room and at the Martyrs' CD Release Party for ’When It's All Gone, You Come Back Home’
By Hannah Frank, March 11, 2010
Oh, to be a word in Shelley Miller's lyrics – you may be pulled, twisted, set free, whispered, or pushed into being. Her guitar picking style is folky and smooth, and casts a gentle spell like drinking a good beer. The songs on her third and latest album effort are moody but smart.
She'll be performing Friday at Martyrs' in Chicago in a CD release party for “When It's All Gone, You Come Back Home”.
Her voice is so important to her sound it's akin to a Stradivarius violin – rare and difficult to duplicate. You likely won't find this brand of breaking, heartfelt folk on American Idol, but if there was “Americana Idol” we'd be texting her in.
I was so taken by her voice when listening to the album, I'd go further to say the Chicago singer-songwriter's voice is a beautiful car crash. In her phrasing, I heard remnants of Tori Amos, Nora Jones and Lucinda Williams. There was a grittiness and originality that folk/Americana fans will find pleasing, and she's not afraid to take chances. There's a variety of styles, each song is like another book on the shelf, with a unique story and delivery.
The track “It was Billie,” partially influenced by Billie Holiday, glows like a jazz song performed in an old country cabin.
“Someone a couple weeks ago referred to me as ’that Bessie Smith chick' – which was a huge compliment. And I was once told that I look like Jeff Tweedy, but that's a whole different matter,” jokes Shelley.
The compliment was based in fact. Miller has what makes certain jazz and blues singers stand out when they are expressing emotion – they've experienced life's ups and downs and are singing from experience.
Miller says, “I'm not singing to try and prove to anyone that I CAN sing, I'm just telling the stories and letting them come out as they will.”
Miller adds she held “impromptu dance parties by myself in my living room listening to Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and Louis Armstrong.” She is sure a little of that found its way into her voice.
Musically, Miller says, “I went in thinking of it as my 'rock' record – not in terms of loudness, but in terms of rawness and no fluff.” Instrumentation includes bass, drums, cello, and electric guitar. The additional instruments stay true to the mood of each song, offering a homey and comfortable vibe. The musicians know when to play and when to stay out of the way, building a nest for each song.
The honesty and transcendence on the album comes in the form of humbleness and simplicity. This is due not to the characters in the songs, but Shelley's own character. For example, on Shelley's website, there's an image with her sans make-up. I can see the bloodshot veins in her eyes (just barely) as she leans into a mirror.
The album's thirteen tunes dance on the edge, but never become pop music. It's listenable, fun, and sweet without giving up the gut-wrenching and haunting that makes it unique. Shelley remains intriguing, as a writer and guitar player, but her vocals remain her biggest asset.
More Details on March 12 Show at Marytrs'