“I like the idea of saying something very complicated in a very simple way,” Ben Miller states. “That’s what we strive for musically, and what I strive for lyrically—to get directly to the point.”
Getting to the point is something that the Ben Miller Band does consistently on Choke Cherry Tree, the Joplin, Missouri-bred combo’s third album and second New West release. The consistently compelling set offers 11 new examples of Miller’s deceptively unpretentious songcraft, beneath whose ramshackle exterior lurks sturdy, infectious melodies and resonant, emotionally insightful lyrics.
Choke Cherry Tree introduces a retooled Ben Miller Band lineup, with Miller and fellow founding member Scott Leeper joined by new additions Rachel Ammons and Smilin’ Bob Lewis. The pair’s multi-instrumental skills bring added authority to Miller’s rootsy new compositions, while maintaining the high energy level (complete with homemade instruments constructed from broken and discarded axes) that originally endeared the band to its fans. Elsewhere, Rachel Ammons’ expressive vocals lend depth to the haunting “Redwing Blackbird.”
Since its formation in 2004, the Ben Miller Band has staked out an iconoclastic niche that’s established them as both a one-of-a-kind creative unit and a grass-roots fan favorite. Channeling a century’s worth of far-flung American musical influences into rousing songcraft that radiates with smarts and soul, Miller’s tunes achieve a musical and emotional depth that belies the material’s (and the musicians’) rough exterior.