Scott Miller & The Commonwealth – Upside Down
Upside: 1. It Didn't Take Too Long - 2:20 2. Raised By The Graves - 2:53 3. The Way - 3:46 4. Pull Your Load - 2:03 5. Second Chance - 2:30 6. Chill, Relax, Now - 2:45 Downside: 7. Amtrak Crescent - 4:39 8. Angels Dwell - 2:57 9. Ciderville Saturday Night - 2:14 10. I've Got A Plan - 4:24 11. Red Ball Express - 3:06 12. For Jack Tymon - 2:59
Scott Miller guitars, harmonica, vocals) , Eric Fritsch (accordion, Hammond B3-organ, piano, clavinet, slide guitar, vocals, handclapping, percussion) , Rob McNelley (electric guitar) , Tim O'Brien (mandolin) , Patty Griffin (vocals) , Richard McLaurin (steel guitar, handclapping, vocals) , Park Chisholm (bass) , Shaun McWilliams drums, percussion, vocals)
1. AllMusic - Mark Deming
Scott Miller's solo debut, Thus Always to Tyrants, was an ambitious, stylistically diverse set that fully lived up to the promise of his earlier work with the V-Roys, running from pop to hard rock to bluegrass and sounding fiery and convincing at all turns. However, for his second album Miller opted for something a bit less grand, and while he often sounds a lot more relaxed on Upside Downside (so named because it was sequenced to have a rock side and an acoustic side), he also offers up a few throwaways, which wasn't the case on his first outing. "It Didn't Take Too Long" and "Pull Your Load" are wiry rockers that could have been written during a lunch break, and while they're both fun, they don't hold a candle to Thus Always to Tyrants' high points like "Yes I Won't" and "Mess of This Town," while "Chill, Relax, Now" is an (almost) instrumental that doesn't serve much of a purpose other than taking up space. But if Miller the rocker isn't especially well served on Upside Downside, Miller the singer/songwriter is in fine form, especially on the romantic "Angels Dwell" (with guest vocals from Patty Griffin), the modern-day train song "Amtrak Crescent," and "Red Ball Express," an evocative tale of life on the front lines during World War II. While "Raised By the Graves" and "Second Chance" prove Miller still has some great rock songs up his sleeve, Upside Downside's second half thoroughly outclasses the first half. Advice to Scott: Next time out, do a little more woodshedding with that electric guitar, fellah.
2. Bob Allen
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, native Scott Miller first gained attention as part of Knoxville roots-rockers the V-Roys, who briefly recorded for Steve Earle's E-Squared label. On Upside Downside, the follow-up to his 200l solo studio debut Thus Always to Tyrants, Miller once again acquits himself admirably as a quintessential heartland rocker and the closest thing the "Old Dominion" has to its very own Earle or John Mellencamp. Backed by his crackerjack band, the Commonwealth, Miller delivers a superb mix of blistering, often Virginia-specific rockers ("Raised by the Graves") and acoustic, country-tinged forays ("Amtrak Crescent" and "Ciderville Saturday Night," both featuring newgrass master Tim O’Brien on mandolin), tempering each with sobering self-realization, hard-fought wisdom, and self-effacing humor. A fine groove-driven instrumental called "Chill, Relax, Now" and a couple of frenetic, humorous rockers, including "It Didn't Take Too Long," add to the fun
3. Amazon.com - Top customer reviews
Superb followup - Music fan - July 1, 2003
"Thus Always to Tyrants," Scott Miller's solo debut after leaving The V-Roys, was one of the best albums of 2001 (and its cover using the Virginia state seal earned him a cease and desist letter from state lawyers with too much taxpayer-funded free time on their hands). With "Upside/Downside," Miller proves that record was no fluke with a typical mix of songs that are loud (rocking) and not so loud (folkie) and just plain fun (a disposable homage to Booker T & the MGs.)
There's nothing as grinning as the opening line to the last album's "I Won't Go With You:" " Man, this beer is colder than the shoulder you would give me if I were to tell you the truth." But there are lines that come close, especially in "Second Chance": "I don't want to fight. Sometimes I'm always right. I'd love to change it, but you know I can't so I need a second chance."
It's typically smartass Miller, a William & Mary graduate who is as wise and funny about his Virginia heritage as any writer around -- on page or on disc.
Musically, Upside/Downside careens from straight ahead rock ("It Didn't Take Too Long") to bluesy rock ("Pull Your Load" to folk storytelling ("Amtrak Crescent" and "Ciderville Saturday Night," both featuring Tim O'Brien's mandolin). The Commonwealth returns as his backing band on most cuts and Patty Griffin stops by to lend her ethereal vocals to "Angels Dwell" and "The Way."
Like the first record, Miller explores finding your way as a Southerner in the modern world. "I'm headed out to find what it is that makes a man want to come home," he sings in "The Way. "I've had enough off the way I was. Seems like it's time to learn the way."
Overall, it's a typically precocious record, one that offers bits of musical tapas for country, rock or folk fans.
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