You had to feel for Scott Miller. His fine acoustic performance last night at Willie’s Locally Known was shifted to an early evening start time to accommodate the late tipoff of the Kentucky/ Louisville NCAA game. But that meant the longtime songsmith, who spent all of his professional career in Knoxville before relocating to his Virginia family farm three years ago, had be onstage as his beloved Tennessee Vols were going down for an Elite Eight placement to Michigan. Miller took it all with a wry wit that was often turned inward, that was until he eulogized his team’s impending loss with a solemn finale of Tennessee Waltz. What a hapless, heartfelt and strangely complimentary pairing it was with Miller earnestly singing the classic county lyrics about losing a sweetheart as his team bowed out for the season.
The rest of the performance was no less absorbing. Miller remains, some 18 years after his Lexington debut with the Knoxville quartet The V-Roys a masterful storyteller – one that weaves words with Dylan-esque rhythm and specificity as his narratives become darkly personal. An exquisite example surfaced last night with How Am I Ever Going to Be Me?, a tune that questioned identity, faith and salvation.
Equally sobering and Dylan-drenched was Lo Siento Spanishburg West Virginia, a tale of rural decay that provided a modest whimsical spin on folk tradition (“old times there are Oxycontin”).
Both are relatively recent tunes for Miller that favored folkish outlines over the rockish template used for many of his V-Roys and early solo career songs. It was a setting nicely enhanced during the 90 minute set by bassist/accompanist Bryn Davies, last seen locally as a band member to Peter Rowan and Tony Rice. Whether supplementing the subtle groove to Sin in Indiana, adding a lovely bowed bass accent to Is There Room on the Cross for Me? or providing playful, percussive slaps to Freedom’s a Stranger, Davies proved a resourceful and often elegant orchestrator for Miller’s music.
As has been the case with several crowded weekend shows at Willie’s, there was an abundance of idle audience chatter that signaled a disconnect (or perhaps disrespect) among some patrons. But when the performance hushed for the Civil War remembrance Highland County Boy at encore time, the only crowd noise was the unprompted shuffling of ensemble feet that simulated the march of war-beaten soldiers as well as the tune’s percussive heartbeat.