Musical connoisseurs of Fort Wayne, do you know what you have on your hands with Lee Miles? For starters, a dusky, haunting moan of a voice that demands to be heard. Lyrics that lurk alone in the shadows, then storm into the open with devastating impact. Sturdy, timeless tunes that will sound just as good in 20 years as they do today. (They’ll make you hum along, too.)
In short, you’ve been blessed with one hell of a musician – one who really ought to be selling CDs by the truckload and grabbing attention nationwide. Until that happens, though, you’ve got him all to yourselves. So why not get acquainted? Miles’ new album, The Leaving, is a fine place to start.
Shot through with rage, regret and betrayal, The Leaving is by far the most personal work of art Miles has ever created. Opening track “The Waiting” sets the tone with his croon: “They are taking me to jailhouse / For I have killed my love in cold.” Chilling words, and the crisp acoustic strums and eerie slide guitar that accompany them make this song one of the finest Miles has ever recorded.
The next track would fit right in next to the songs of Neil Young and The Band, two of Miles’ strongest influences. “Me and Robert E. Lee, we fooled ourselves,” he sings over chugging guitars, and he proceeds to give a searing kiss-off to his very own lost cause – a relationship with a lover who “sold me down the river for someone else.”
The mood eases for a moment with “Sunday Brothers,” a mellow Elliott Smith-style ditty. Then it’s back to the bloodshed with “Ballad of Laura Belle,” a murky tale of violence and tragedy. The first half of the album wraps up with “Let You Down,” combining an effortlessly melancholy melody with a futile plea: “Don’t let me down / I won’t let you down.”
Things take a turn for the Dylanesque on The Leaving’s second half, most notably in the pissed-off poetry and scrappy harmonica-plus-strum of “It’s Alright Marie,” “Lions” and “No You’re Not. You’re Disloyal.” “You turned into what you swore you’d never be / You take it out on me,” snarls Miles.
The emotional intensity only increases as the album draws to a close. In fact, The Leaving’s one-two punch of a finale is downright shattering. The title track’s gentle guitar and pedal steel convey the lyrics with heartbreaking clarity as Miles sings with fragile grace, “Once told me I were a burden / As if sickness were a choice / Wonder when the other shoe falls / With no one around, will there be noise?”
All the album’s pent-up anguish and anger culminate in “Hold Your Head Down.” The song begins as a ringing folk anthem, then careens off the rails, finally disintegrating into a cathartic explosion of feedback and drums worthy of the Wilco masterpiece Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It’s a fitting end for what just might be Miles’ best album.
And now you’re probably wanting a copy of The Leaving, right? You’re in luck. Miles has an album release show scheduled for Jan. 1 at The Brass Rail. Admission is $3; add $5 for the CD. (Caleb Cook)
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