Ben Miller Band has undergone a transformation of sorts since the release of their last album Any Way, Shape or Form in 2014. Percussionist and trombonist Doug Dicharry left the band after 11 years and he was replaced by Smilin’ Bob Lewis along with vocalist and instrumentalist Rachel Ammons. The four-piece released their latest album Choke Cherry Tree, their second for New West Records, earlier this year.
Opening track Nothing Gets Me Down sets the tone for Choke Cherry Tree. The album is a genre-defying collection that moves from stripped-down tales of everyday life to louder, arguably less coherent moments like Akira Kurosawa. Frequently Choke Cherry Tree flips between styles, switching things up on a track-by-track basis. One More Time is a fuzzy, beat-driven moment that sounds like a rallying cry while Trapeze is a slice of pure Americana.
Elsewhere on the record Life of Crime is a bluesy rock number with an infectious rhythm, Redwing Blackbird embraces a more traditional folk sound, and Sketchbook conjures up images of a large group of people shaking loose during a Ceilidh.
Lighthouse, which is one of the album’s more straightforward moments, is actually one of its best. The piano-driven ballad lets Miller’s voice really shine away from the distraction of the sometimes heavy production. When he’s given room to properly breathe, he sounds quite magnificent.
The album comes to a close with Mississippi Cure, one of the most lusciously arranged tracks featured here. The band really are fantastic at producing sweeping and soaring melodies and that’s most present here. It’s a strong end to an album that’s anything but boring.
Choke Cherry Tree is a little too frenetic to be fully cohesive. Ben Miller Band clearly has a lot of ideas but throwing them all together in one record proves to be a somewhat exhausting listen. There are some real high moments on the album, and I have a feeling many of these songs will truly find their feet in a live setting. Choke Cherry Tree is an adventurous and ambitious record but it’s not the easiest to penetrate initially and requires time and effort to fully appreciate.
Track list: 1. Nothing Gets Me Down 2. Akira Kurosawa 3. One More Time 4. Big Boy 5. Trapeze 6. Lighthouse 7. Redwing Blackbird 8. Life of Crime 9. Sketchbook 10. My Own Good Time 11. Mississippi Cure Record label: New West Records Release date: 26th January 2018