Recently Jack White was interviewed, and he made an interesting point about the hisses and pops and imperfections that are rampant in old blues records.

Essentially he was saying that the coughs, missed claps and botched takes were the most story-rich elements of the whole process. By implication, as we hurtle toward having only airbrushed banality stuffing our iPods, we’re cleaning the soul right out of our music. How horrifying! How Huxley!

In this light, you’ve got to appreciate what Pete Miller’s up to. In a local radio world made too syrupy-sweet by Pro Tool tricks, the songwriter keeps it organic on his new EP, “Shake the Dawn.”

Cellos, acoustic guitars and brushy drums dominate as though it were high time someone went back to a more honest, transparent sound. Try to imagine Damien Rice’s all-acoustic affairs, just not so sad puppy.

The EP has some sure highlights. Miller and fantastic singer Sara Hallie Richardson soar on the single “Daydreamer” over Tim Garrett’s pulsing cello and rock drums. “You” features detailed guitar work, spooky strings and Miller with a low register growl all neatly trapped in a blues stutter step. There are fantastic little pockets of creativity, as in the heartbeat trick in “Shake My Bones.”

Miller saves his best for last. Usually, a title like “To See Your Eyes” is a cheeseball code-red on a songwriter’s record. But with menacing strings and some horns for color, it turns out to be not much of a ballad at all, but a mischievous Miller dabbling in the dark side.

The guy’s got a little ways to go yet. Sometimes the lyrics sound like complacent fillers. A couple of voice lessons would put more air in Miller’s diaphragm and improve his overall tuning. But these songs take turns to unexpected places, and the acoustic arrangements that carry them there consistently sound tight and organic.

It’s important to note that this thing came out of Eric Bettencourt’s underrated shop over at Shadow Shine records, and so this talented writer has the right stewardship around him. Miller’s got all the tools to grow up properly as a musician, because he made all the right decisions first. Now he just has to get better.


Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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