Lee Miles has logged a very credible amount of radio airplay for such a short career. His first band, Hagas, started things off with “Just Like You,” a track that made the first Essentials CD. The band was then forced to change its name to Dark Blonde Water, whereupon they released the song “Cadillac Dawn” which spent two weeks at No. 1 on a South Bend radio station in 2002.
Recently Miles decided to take a break from his band and to put down some of his songs in a more concentrated form. Utilizing two classic Shure microphones, an old mixer and his PC, Lee captured sparse tracks bereft of studio trickery. Such a scary venture demands that the songs stand on their own and is the ultimate test of a good song.
Fortunately, Miles is a gifted songwriter and his album So Much Pain So Much Sorrow is full of well-written gems. Like his work with Dark Blonde Water the songs are steeped in folk and earthy origins, but in place of DBW’s southern rock is bluegrass and a strong yearning for the sounds of the South made popular with the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
“California Morning,” co-written by Josh Hermes, sets the pace for what is to come. Bittersweet two-part vocal harmonies augment the lone acoustic guitar and Miles’ own deep, intense voice as he sings of leaving for the coast. Arpeggio acoustic guitar and a hollow TV playing in the background make the somber “Paper Cup” a chilling ode to solitude. Another killer track is “Ballad of Henry Mason,” where two guitars play intricate parts that fit together like the gears of a Swiss watch before Miles begins to sing a plaintive melody that would even make a people person feel lonely. “Ode To Enron” incorporates a banjo and plucky guitar to set a deep-south feel for lyrics such as “If we should find our eternal rest in a lake of fire / Hope we’ve had fun.” Uber-tight three part vocal harmonies saturate “Rainsit” and the album closer, “We’re,” with its dark harmonies and dirge feel that would be right at home on the classic Violent Femmes album Hallowed Ground.
The songs are unpolished and raw, yet wonderfully crafted and able to stand up to such harsh studio neglect. Although the melodies are generally gloomy and the lyrics heartbreaking, fans of Dark Blonde Water, vocal harmonies and the singer/songwriter format will find masochistic pleasure in So Much Pain So Much Sorrow.
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