By Al Kaufman
“I’m not ready to settle. I’m still looking for where I belong,” purrs Hannah Miller on her fifth release, O Black River. The angelic-voiced one now calls Nashville home, but she grew up in Alabama and cut her musical teeth in Columbia, S.C. Her music has a certain southern feel to it, but it is imbued with blues, gospel and jazz. Miller may not be settled on her musical influences, but the end result is relaxed, confident, and smooth.
Miller’s voice can best be described by the three “S”s: sexy, sultry, and soulful. It contains the beauty of an Emmylou Harris, but also the hint of danger and remorse that are exemplified by Jolie Holland or Feist. The gospel-tinged title track demonstrates Miller’s spiritual side, but is coated in a layer of darkness as she seeks redemption from the water. “To the Swift” is a bit darker. About a person who will continue to carry on no matter what is put in her way, the Wurlitzer organ conveys a jumbled, confused mindset. The haunting background chorus only adds to the effect. It is a song so starkly beautiful that it causes toes to tingle.
Miller introduces a bit on a country edge on “Bleed Out.” Again a song about determination, it recalls some of the better ballads of Tift Merritt. “Foolish Pride,” which follows, is just a girl and her guitar. It does not move much and relies on Millers vocals carrying the song that lacks a true melody. It is the only misstep on the EP.
“Elijah,” made up almost entirely of lines from the Old Testament, returns to the gospel sound that Miller favors, but includes horns and banjo. It is full of that blue-eyed soul that Joan Osbourne showed in her song of spiritual searching, “One of Us.”
“Refuge,” which closes the CD, is about release and resignation. “I think I need to rest,” she repeatedly sings. After laying out her soul for all to see, she deserves a chance to relax and recharge.
Hannah Miller plays at Grocery on Home on Saturday, October 1.