Within the dusty boot tracks, alternately funereal and hoedown tempos and clucking country-style electric guitars that populate the latest from Lee Miles and the Illegitimate Sons, A Farewell to Sister Evelyn, you’ll find sorrowful and sordid tales alike. You’ll find murder, fever, wretches thirsting for salvation and victims who never sought it. Best of all, you’ll find layers and levels of meaning tacked to the antique, esoteric lyrics. Rarely are lyrics printed on a page as moving or enlightening as they are when sung, but in this case having them in view adds to the experience. “All the boys in skinny clothes cut wide open on the evening news,” Miles sings over a single strummed acoustic guitar. “One says he’s stepping on the throat of the man who would harm you. The other says all leaders must die, it don’t matter the color of his lies if he’s banking on our hopes and our money, if our children be killed in the street.”
This ain’t no Moon/June verse. In fine folk tradition these lyrics tread between long-form poetry and telegraphed prose. Usually I’d go on to expound on the instrumentation or the vocals creating a mood or a texture, but, passionate delivery and definite musical chops aside, this one belongs to the words.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the almost spooky Band (as in The Band) vibe hanging over much of the disc. Not that Miles and company parrot the roots-rock legends, or even directly recall them. There’s just a folk-fed gravitas haunting these songs even when they get all sprightly and such. To call “After You Doctor Pianka” a dirge is no slight, since its deliberate pace, overcast organ and deliberate drumbeats bolster the state-of-the-union-circa-1895 (and 2009) lyrical sentiment. “Once we were babies fed at the trough / Older we suffer new pharmacy cough,” keens Miles.
The comparatively brighter gait and epic feel of “Ophelia” don’t lighten the load of its lyrics, but it does serve to keep A Farewell moving along nicely. This record sounds great, and the band provides a plenty sturdy platform for the weight of Miles’ words. You don’t need to be an English major to enjoy this album, but to listen strictly for the fine tunes means you’re giving A Farewell to Sister Evelyn only a portion of the attention it deserves. Chalk up another interesting, literate musical venture for Miles and Co.