Brooke Miller – Familiar – Stockfisch Records SFR 357.4076.2 stereo-only SACD, 47:50 ****:
(Brooke Miller – guitar, vocals; Dan Ross – bass, Rhodes bass, piano)
Brooke Miller is another excellent singer from Canada whose exact genre is difficult to describe. At twelve she was the vocalist and lead guitarist for a punk band in Prince Edward Island. Eventually, her musical direction would be influenced by artists like Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn and The Police. In 2007, she was awarded the prestigious Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award, bestowed by the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals. Her compositions have been heard in movies (The Year Of Getting To Know Us) and television shows (The L Word, Women’s Murder Club). Her recording career started in 2007 with the self-released Shake It Off. She played nearly all of the instruments and did all of the vocals. In late 2011 she cut a self-titled album that demonstrated a more electric sound.
Miller’s latest project, Familiar has something different this time. She and husband/musician Dan Ross) have traveled to Germany to work with producer/engineer Gunter Pauler at Stockfisch Records. With leaner arrangements (mostly acoustic guitar and voice) of her catalogue, the organic alchemy of her natural folk-based material with the state-of-the –art SACD mastering technology is a collection of intimate songs that connect to the listener. The album opens with “What You Know” as rhythmic guitar chords underline lyrics of small town customs are detailed by Miller’s exquisite voice. The same dynamics can be found in “You Can See Everything”. Miller’s guitar work is clean and nimble and the tone of Michael Greenfield’s custom guitars is shimmering. She also overdubs harmony backup vocals.
There are country roots to some of the compositions. The ambivalent nature of love is explored with a slower waltz tempo on “Everywhere”. The lament, “Love is cruel is kind and it’s everywhere” is sung with graceful melancholy. The title ballad is covered twice. The lilting vocals on the piano version are provocative and elegant like Joni Mitchell or Rickie Lee Jones. With guitar, the song is less ethereal and more soulful with its phrasing. “Two Soldiers” approximates a plaintive rumination on society and politics. But with introspective numbers like “A.M. Song”, the chemistry of this singer/songwriter is captured in graceful acoustics. Her voice is very fluid, but glows with a delicate, raspy edge. The jazzy intonation on “Quiet Night” is tender and haunting.
Stockfisch has earned a reputation (and deservedly so) for immersing the intricate talents of folk singers with advanced recording techniques. The tonal quality of the acoustic guitars is pristine, without any distortion or fret noise. Additionally, the multi-faceted voice of Miller is rendered with full texture and warmth. Lower and higher register notes are mellow and never overproduced. Familiar is the work of an artist with much to offer.
TrackList: What You Know; You Can See Everything; There You Are; Everywhere; Familir (piano version); Shake It Off; A.M. Song; Two Soldiers; Say That Dear; Familiar (guitar version); Quiet Night
A posthumous release of late career Bill Evans in SACD format adds to the formidable legacy.