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Friday, May 6, 2016

Miller lets his fandom show on 'The Interpreter'

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rhett Miller released "The Interpreter Live at Largo" on Nov. 22 on his own Maximum Sunshine Records label.
In some ways, a good cover song can be the closest moment of connection between musicians and their audiences.

It provides a moment where the artist and the fans can enjoy the music on almost the same level. There's an unspoken agreement in the opening bars of a favorite: "We all know this one. Let's enjoy it together."

On Nov. 22, singer-songwriter and Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller gave his fans a whole album of those moments with the release of "The Interpreter Live at Largo." In covering favorites like the Beatles, David Bowie, Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan, Miller is as much a fan as he is a performer at points on the record.

"This is only the greatest song written by any human being and I'm going to sing it for you," Miller says as he introduces "Waterloo Sunset."

After a bit more banter, he launches into a nice, little acoustic version of the Kinks' classic. It's not that the version really touches the original, but that isn't the point.

Instead, it's great listening to the admiration in Miller's voice in both talking about and performing the song.

And that is the beauty of almost any cover song. Rare is the case of a truly good performer's original being surpassed by a later version.

Instead, Miller gives us 45 minutes of reworkings that are as much about fandom as they are about artistry.

He plays a medley of the Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation" and the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" on the record, taking two loud electric guitar songs and reducing them to one man and an acoustic guitar.

According to Miller, it proves that songs "are all folk songs."

It's also interesting that Miller doesn't choose obvious cover songs. After opening with Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" and Tom Petty's "American Girl," Miller pulls his selections from a bit deeper in the artists' catalogs.

Everyone has covered the Beatles, but in choosing "I'll Cry Instead," Miller gives us an underappreciated number that was actually cut from the Fab Four's film "A Hard Day's Night."

That's a little bit more adventurous than standing up there giving us "Yesterday."

He displays similar taste in delivering two Bowie songs -- "Queen Bitch" and "The Bewlay Brothers" -- and one Dylan composition -- "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."

They aren't exactly singalongs, but for the right crowd on the right night, it can be magic.

Based on the record, that was what the two nights at Largo must have been like.

My spin: B

Miller doesn't reinvent the wheel here and he doesn't need to. In the record's liner notes he says, "My versions of these songs are merely loving homages to the music that has meant so much to me."

Isn't that what we want from our performers? Miller simply gives us an unpretentious reminder that musicians are fans too.