The Ben Miller Band have announced the release of Choke Cherry Tree via New West Records on January 26th, 2018. The Joplin, Missouri-bred combo’s third album and second New West Records release introduces a retooled line-up with Miller and fellow founding member Scott Leeper joined by new additions Rachel Ammons and Smilin’ Bob Lewis. The pair’s multi-instrumental skills bring added authority to Miller’s rootsy new compositions while maintaining the high energy level that originally endeared the band to its fans.
The 11-song Choke Cherry Tree was produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists whose own multi-instrumental abilities helped expand the band’s sonic options. The album features guest appearances from Jenny Conlee and Nate Query (also of the Decemberists), renowned saxophonist Ralph Carney (Tom Waits, Tin Huey), Dan Hunt of Neko Case’s band, Ural Thomas, Rev Shines of Lifesavas, and more. The consistently compelling album offers new examples of Miller’s deceptively unpretentious songcraft, beneath whose ramshackle exterior lurks sturdy, infectious melodies and resonant, emotionally insightful lyrics. Track “Akira Kurosawa”, about the influential Japanese film director and screenwriter whose well-known films include Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961).
Since its formation in 2004, the Ben Miller Band has staked out an iconoclastic niche that’s established them as both a one-of-a-kind creative unit and a grass-roots fan favourite. Channelling a century’s worth of far-flung American musical influences into rousing songcraft that radiates with smarts and soul, Miller’s tunes achieve a musical and emotional depth that belies the materials (and the musicians’) rough exterior. Word of their charismatic live shows spread and the band has astounded audiences across North America, the U.K., and Europe, where they’ve toured to rave reviews (including a high-profile tour of Europe with ZZ Top, thanks to the patronage of avowed Ben Miller Band fan Billy Gibbons). Their early D.I.Y. approach extended to the lo-tech, largely self-built instruments the band members still play on stage, including Miller’s thrift-shop guitars and banjos and Scott Leeper’s one-string washtub bass.
Miller says, “Early in the process of making this album, I thought that we either had to really nail our live approach in the recording studio, or we needed to forget about that and just work on capturing the songs in an inventive way that presents them in their best light. We decided on the latter approach, and we never looked back.” He adds, “I did more demos than usual, and really hashed out the songs at home, which gave me and Chris a really good starting point to work the songs. It was the opposite of just jumping in and playing and trying to capture it on the mics. Even though there was more collaboration with other people on this album, it’s probably the least compromised album I’ve ever made.”
Choke Cheery Tree is released January 26, 2018, via New West Records
Photo credit: Carl Geers