Songs about big regret for the terminally hip is Rhett Miller at his worst. But at his best he’s like that person in your creative-writing class back in college who always had better plot lines than anyone else — and the writerly chops to pull them off. Miller’s finest material explores themes of the strange and the overextended: a man is trapped in his apartment by agoraphobia and falls in love with a woman in a dance class he can see through a window. Kafka, the writer, has a fling with his best friend’s wife. A guy charts a relationship that hasn’t even happened yet. Or Miller imagines the life of a child (in this case, his own) as a senior citizen: “She’s the sum of the tchotchkes she keeps.”
Other writers have better explored the human condition: consider Hank Williams Sr. or even J. Geils. But Miller is still a work-in-progress, a huge romantic in which the moon and ships figure into his ever-twisting unresolved narratives. Love is a jail, one of his characters explains, especially when you have two girlfriends and are considering a third.
Miller is best known as the front man for the Old 97’s, a Dallas-based alt-country band with its origins in the middle 1990s. They arrived with contemporaries such as the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo but never got their share of credit — or, more importantly, sales. The Old 97’s were dropped from the Elektra Records tree like over-ripened fruit. Wreck Your Life, a critics’ favorite among their nine band releases, finds Miller’s voice in perfect counter to the Old 97’s deep-throated twang, but it fails to catch fire. Miller has recorded five albums of originals and a CD of covers. His latest, The Dreamer — a collection of all-new, rootsy pop rockers — is slated for release in June. Worth a listen? Yep. One day, Miller’s gonna take off.
RHETT MILLER: Casbah, Friday, June 15, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $16 advance; $18 day of show.