Playing time: 38 minutes
Availability (out of 3): **
Related website(s): http://www.dalemiller.com
My rating: 10/10
I like… The variety of genres, the upbeat feel, the rich tone
I’m less keen on… Some of the tracks are very short, but then the album is really aimed at guitar players wanting to learn new tunes and arrangements
Not only did the “folk revival” in America in the 1960s see the rediscovery of some great performers from, several decades earlier, it also saw a new generation of would-be guitar players. Many set themselves to learning the styles of the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis and Son House. Some tracked down the music of other players, long dead, from the 1920s and 1930s. Blues and ragtime guitar challenged their dedication and co-ordination.
A number of players married the fingerpicking styles of some of the greats to compositions of their own, or to a range of tunes from folk or pop traditions. This album is a case in point.
Dale Miller recorded for Stefan Grossman’s “Kicking Mule” label, a label that sought to showcase recordings by relatively little-known players and to help other players to learn to play some of their tunes.
Dale Miller, 1970s
He played and performed up to 2012; when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, Dale wrote a blog and released recordings on his youtube channel. He died in 2013.
I was given a vinyl copy by a work colleague after I’d told him that I played acoustic guitar, and as soon as I began to listen to it I fell in love with it!
The album is entirely instrumental, solo steel-strung guitar. As mentioned above, it was originally intended mainly for budding guitarists to listen to and to learn from, but I think it deserves a wider audience.
The album comprises a variety of musical genres, and I think there’s something at least that would appeal to many. There’s a rendition of Bach’s well-known “Air On A G-String”, a version of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”, a Blind Blake-inspired rag, and some surprises, too: the whimsical “Bicycle Made For Two” and the hornpipe “Boys From Blue Hill” (the title may not be familiar, but the tune will be recognised by many). There are also blues (and blues-flavoured) and jazz tunes.
In all there are 21 tracks with a total playing time of just over 38 minutes. The tunes vary considerably in length from 49 seconds to 2 minutes 55 seconds.
Dale plays with a fairly pronounced bass accompaniment to his melody, and he plays cleanly, crisply and with a rich tone. Given that the original recording dates from the 1970s, I think that the sound is above satisfactory.
The sleeve notes replicate those of the original album and include some notes on the individual tracks.
Rather than comment on the tracks in the order in which they play, I’ll group some of them together for convenience, and to prevent repetition.
(also known as Stack-O-Lee), this comes from the playing of Mississippi John Hurt (I have posted a review of his “Library Of Congress Recordings”). I like this tune (originally a song about a cold-blooded gambler) and the variations that Dale works around the main theme.
God Bless The Child
is described in the notes as “a funky bluesy version of the Billie Holliday tune”, with a few unusual (for the time) tricks thrown in for good measure.
Chatanooga Choo Choo
One thing I love about this album is the inclusion of some real feel-good, light-hearted tunes. I feel that Dale plays the melody with a fair degree of sweetness, and adds a dash of bluesiness with some “bent” or slurred notes on the guitar. It’s hard not to enjoy this one…
Bicycle Built For Two/Sidewalks Of New York
This medley doesn’t follow straight on from “Chatanooga”, but again it’s hard to resist the charm of Dale’s playing. I really like the incorporation of “Sidewalks Of New York”; the tune goes really well with “Bicycle” and adds a nice variety to the tune, making it a fine medley.
Too Tite Rag; Son Of Diddie
The 1920s/1930s blind guitar player Arthur “Blind” Blake had a wonderful style. Whereas most players of the time played a steady bass (either the same note repeated or alternating between two notes), “dumm… dumm…”, Blake broke up the pattern by incorporating a Charlston-like “de-dum… dumm… dumm… de-dumm…”
These two takes of Dale on Blake’s tunes are impressive, and the use of a 12-string on “Too Tite” is doubly so. It’s hard not to tap your foot along to these two tunes, and they are separated from each other by five other tunes. Samey this album certainly isn’t!
Sweet Georgia Brown; Blue Prelude; Take It On The Run; Birth Of The Blues
These four tunes are either jazz standards (“Sweet Georgia…”, “Birth Of…”) or blues fingerstyle played with jazz chord progressions, and the tunes work very well.
All in all, this is a fine album for most lovers of fingerstyle acoustic guitar, regardless of whether they themselves play the instrument.
There’s plenty of variety and, whilst some of the tracks are perhaps a little too short, it hardly matters given the overall strength of the album.
It certainly deserves to be better known.
My rating: 10/10
Although this is a non money-making blog, I am anxious to credit illustrations included.
1: Dale Miller in the 1970s: http://www.dalemiller.com
2: Blind Blake: www.b-l-u-e-s.com/_/rsrc/1424953684891/blind-blake/Blind%20Blake%201.jpg