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The full band treatment
The Illegitimate Sons — with Lee Miles at the helm — release celebratory American Music
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
When all work was finished on American Music, musician and songwriter Lee Miles did what he usually does — he put the album up on The Illegitimate Son’s website, just to see if he could garner some interest before beginning the usual album release process of booking gigs, mailing out copies, and doing whatever he could do to promote it.
Miles is hardly new to the process. Easily one of the most prolific musicians artists in the area, Miles has released an extensive catalog of albums and EPs, first as the leader of lo automatic and then under his own name. Last year, Greg Locke’s documentary on Lee Miles, Holler and the Moan, spent a little time looking at what Miles does to get his music “out there,” and how unfortunately, despite the quality of the work, sometimes a new album barely makes a ripple with the public.
But with American Music, something happened — four P.R. companies contacted the band, interested in promoting the album.
Miles says that three of the companies seemed a little “shotgun.” But the other one, Crash Avenue, based in Louisville, had credentials, contacts, an impressive roster of artists, and an approach that made sense to Miles and the rest of The Illegitimate Sons. “They sort of specialize in Americana music,” Miles says. “The woman we’re working with from there, Emily Warner, really knows her stuff and is well connected, so…”
“They loved the album. I know their business is hype, but it was kind of nice to hear,” he adds, laughing.
But it’s easy to hear why American Music might have garnered such an enthusiastic response. Just like the title suggests, the 10 tracks are steeped in old time country, folk, and bluegrass, but more to the point, the songs have an immediacy to them that’s much different from some of the stark material on Miles’ previous album, The Leaving. In fact, two of the songs on American Music — “Where You’ll Hide From My Blooded Eye?” and “You’ll Never Break This Cold Heart of Mine” — are pretty much straight-forward, sawdust kickin’ country rave-ups.
To put it simply, Miles took a different approach to American Music, and it really pays off. Miles wanted to make a “band album,” so The Illegitimate Sons — the musicians who back Miles when he plays live — were intimately involved in arranging and recording the material from very early on. “Normally when I write songs I give them to the whole band to play live, but when I record it I play most of the parts myself,” Miles says. “This time, the band wrote and played most of their own parts; I thought it was only proper to give the band credit for making this album.”
Guitarist Ben Porter stepped in after Jon Keller re-located to Nashville, and Andy Pauquette took up bass duties after C. Ray Harvey had to drop out because of work conflicts. They’re joined by Kyle Morris (pedal steel); Brett Gilpin (keyboards) and John Ross (drums).
In addition, the tracks “Television Mama” and “Wholesaler” feature Bart Helms on accordion and, on the latter track, Lynsey Rae on vocals. Pat Borton plays upright bass on a few songs, and the album closes with the ballad “I Will Go Where You Go,” a duet with Sunny Taylor.
Ben Porter also served as producer on American Music, with Gilpin helping out as engineer, two tasks Miles used to perform himself that he was happy to turn over to people more experienced. “I really wanted to put an album out on vinyl, and I thought well, if I’m going to do that, I want it to sound as good as it can possibly sound,” Miles says. “Ben has a lot of knowledge about proper recording techniques, so he really helped us. Everything we recorded, we would spend a good couple hours just trying to get the right mic placement on the guitar, the right preamp set for the microphone. I was not used to that. Usually, I would just set up a mic, and if the levels weren’t peaking I thought that we were good, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
Describing American Music as “upbeat” wouldn’t be accurate — in the tradition of a lot of older country and folk artists, Miles’ lyrics tend towards darker imagery, and often deal with betrayal and despair. But there is an energy here that’s different from some of Miles more recent work; maybe it comes from the band arrangements, or the full production… I ask Miles if maybe it’s my imagination. “No, I wanted this be more of a celebratory album and have more of an upbeat feel, and I wanted it to be more accessible to people,” he says. “Lyrically, I think I just… well, certain writers tend to be a little more dark than others. But I do enjoy the energy on the album.”
American Music officially drops on July 24, and a video for “Burn You to the Ground” (directed by Lucas Carter) will be available soon. Their relationship with Crash Avenue has already yielded some great reviews from a few music blogs and other publications (it’ll be the feature album on AOL’s music site Spinner feature the week of July 24), and Miles and the rest of The Illegitimate Sons are hopeful that the extra buzz will lead to something more. “I’ve been at this for a long time, and I wanted to see what would happen,” Miles says of signing on with Crash Avenue. “We already know what happens when you don’t.”
American Music comes out July 24. To hear tracks from American Music visit theillegitimatesons01.bandcamp.com and theillegitimatesons.com.