Spirit Songs: The Best Of

Bill Miller

Vanguard Records, 2004


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


It's not very often that one expects to hear a call for social justice in a music review. Today, however, I'm going to get all indignant about a hideous miscarriage of decency.

Meet Bill Miller. Bill Miller is the best folk-rock singer you've never heard of. Why haven't you heard of him, you ask? Easy; Bill Miller, because he happens to be Native American, has been almost invariably promoted and shelved as a 'Native American musician', and put over in the drumming and tree frog section of the store, where, indeed, no one bothers to go look for great songwriting ability, fine instrumentation, and the ability to tug at your heartstrings. This is roughly equivalent to putting Barbara Streisand in the Klezmer section, or Janet Jackson in the African World Music section. In other words, this is pretty damned dumb.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Because of this, almost no one has heard of Bill Miller, and that is an utter and tragic miscarriage of justice. See, Bill Miller can sing, people. Bill Miller can play multiple instruments with aplomb, grace, and talent. Bill Miller is cool as hell. So as a public service, The Daily Vault brings you Bill Miller's greatest hits collection, Spirit Songs, and hopes that you discover it, and him, and get him out of the World Music scary section. Because, dammit, he deserves bettter.

Spirit Songs is, in a word, triumphant. If this is the kind of stuff Miller does, I will be hunting down every single CD he has ever put out and adding them to my personal musical collection toot sweet. His incredible vocals, guitar playing, flute playing, and songwriting affected me immediately like few artists have -- Miller's work reminds me of the first time I heard Bill Morrissey, or Phideaux, or James McMurtry. He is, in a word, a genius, and Spirit Songs is a great introduction to his work.

Every track on here is outstanding, but I have particular fondness for the haunting and sorrowful "Dreams Of Wounded Knee"; the questions without answers of "Ghost Dance"; the sheer joy of "Every Mountain I Climb"; real stories like "Tumbleweed" and "Reservation Road"; and the breathtaking potential in "Underneath The Blue Sky", the new track showing the direction we can expect in the future.

You owe it to yourself and to common decency to check out Bill Miller. Yes, he sings about Native American issues, but that doesn't make him a 'Native American musician' anymore than Rush should be filed under 'Canadian folk music'. Check out Spirit Songs today.

Rating: A

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© 2004 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Vanguard Records, and is used for informational purposes only.