November - Dominic Miller Album Review
Dominic Miller first came to my attention when I saw him playing live alongside Sting for Sting's MTV Unplugged gig (remember those?!). Which tells you that I am officially old, seeing as that particular series of gigs started in the late 80s - but not old enough that I can't remember things. Now, where was I...?
Ah yes, I remember: Dominic Miller. Yes, he played pretty damn well at that gig, doing a great rendition of 'All this Time' - one of my all-time favourite Sting songs, taken from my all-time-favourite Sting album 'The Soul Cages'. Armed with a mandolin, Dominic played the blisteringly fast rhythm accompaniment. That album ensconced Dominic as Sting's guitarist, and chief collaborator, song-writing and composition-wise - a collaboration which in 1993 would lead to one of my other all time faves: 'Shape of My Heart', so it's fair to say that Dominic has a pretty great pedigree.
With the onset of a chilly autumn, the title of this album 'November' feels apt, and would seem to hint at a slightly sombre, reflective mood, with most of my friends and the media already looking back at the summer which now seems a very distant memory. For this album, Mr Miller has chosen to eschew (pretty-much) his favoured nylon-strung axes, choosing to play electric guitars with (shock, horror!) electronic keyboards and even a drum machine as accompaniment. It's certainly a livelier and more challenging album than my only other Dominic Miller solo effort 'New Dawn' - which could itself even have earned the title 'Unplugged' being that it's totally acoustic. The new album features an interesting backing band, including a fair chunk of the driving force behind Level 42, with Mark King playing bass and Mike Lindup playing the afore-mentioned keyboards, with Ian Thomas on drums alongside jazz alumni: Stan Sulzman, Jason Rebello, Yaron Herman, Dave Heath and Laurence Cottle.
This change of direction from acoustic to electric was a deliberate choice on Dominic's part, with him reflecting on his electric debut 'First Touch'; "That album represented all the influences I had absorbed up until 1995." This then, is Dominic Miller going back to his roots, but in his own words, he was wary of sounding like a "second-rate fusion or jazz-rock band."
There's no way any of the songs on this album could be classed as second-rate, but there is a definite jazz-rock sound to most. Pausing to allow the non-jazzers or purists a chance to convulse... 'Solent' opens the album very nicely with a well-recorded combination of electric and acoustic guitars and Lindup synth pads. Second track 'W3' veers on the heavier side of jazz-rock, along with 'Ripped Nylon' and 'Sharp Object', but fear not jazz fan, I don't mean 'Metallica heavy'. 'Gut Feeling' features Israeli keyboard player Yaron Herman in prominent electric piano role, alongside drum machine, electric bass a nicely distorted guitar - the whole thing ebbing, flowing and grooving quite nicely - my favourite track.
The afore-mentioned 'Ripped Nylon' is the only track featuring flautist Dave Heath, whose over-blowing lifts the song as it comes to an end. Jason Rebello pops-up towards the end of the album in the mellow track 'Chanson I'. Title track 'November' closes the album in an up-beat fashion, but overall does feel like 'I've heard it before' on previous tracks. And that's the problem, that whilst on the surface, the songs are diverse, the mellow numbers are sometimes similar as are the more rock-infused numbers. I don't know, maybe for the rockier numbers a full-on Simon Phillips-esque number would have lifted the whole set? Stand-out tracks are the opener 'Solent', closer 'November' and 'Gut Feeling'.
Overall, it's a well recorded and produced album with some nice songs on it, but the acid test is: would I choose to play the album frequently? And the answer, given that I have had the album almost two months and barely played it since first giving it a few spins and playing again now, for review purposes is regrettable 'no'.
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