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Joseph “UJ” Miller - Down Home Remedy

Self Produced

12 tracks Total time: 56:52

St. Louis, Missouri third-generation roots/blues singer-songwriter Joseph “UJ” Miller’s Down Home Remedy is an old-timey romp with a contemporary feel, evoking not only the classic acoustic blues and country of the 1930s and 1940s, but also the folk music revival of the early 1960s and the early acoustic/electric folk-rock of the 1960s and 1970s. Down Home Remedy will take older listeners back to those halcyon days of folk coffeehouses and small-stage performances that got lost in the onslaught of commercial rock. It is “UJ’’s second self-produced CD, and of its 12 tracks, ten are Joseph Miller originals, with track 6, “Baby, Baby, Don’t Do That Anymore,” co-written with his son Jake Miller. Track 2, “Irene, Goodnight,” is Miller’s well-done adaptation of the Leadbelly Staple, “Goodnight, Irene,” famously recorded by the Weavers in 1950, who had it as a hit record (just before its members were blacklisted as “Communists”), and recorded by many others, including Odetta. “UJ” Miller does it here as an up-tempo guitar shuffle, and with a verse not included in the standard versions. He also gives the songwriting credits to Gussie Lord Davis, who penned it in 1886.

That said, it must be admitted that Down Home Remedy is a very uneven CD, with its significant strengths undermined by substantive flaws. Among these flaws is Joseph “UJ” Miller’s vocal style—Miller, blessed with a melodious voice, and with a delivery that, while quite presentable, lacks emotional depth and resonance—doesn’t so much sing the blues as croon them. A jarring experience, rather akin to hearing Perry Como sing the blues!

Another flaw is that many of the songs are overlong, with too much repetition of verses and refrains, sometimes too many verses, and too many guitar solo breaks. Unfortunately, this flaw occurs on five tracks in a row, from track 3, “Personal Blues,” (five minutes, 55 seconds) through track 4, “Steppin’ Out Tonight,” (four minutes, 25 seconds), track 5, “Wish I Was A Chicken Hawk,” (four minutes, 56 seconds), track 6, “Baby, Baby, Don’t Do That Anymore,” (four minutes, 47 seconds), all the way through track 7, “40-64 Blues” (five minutes, seven seconds). Interestingly enough, all five of these tracks are among the longest on this 12-track CD that runs to nearly an hour, and where the shortest track, “Irene, Goodnight,” is almost four minutes in length. Indeed, three of the tracks extend over five minutes, with “Personal Blues” almost six minutes in length. These above-mentioned overlong tracks could’ve used some judicious editing, which would’ve shortened the CD’s length by about 10-15 minutes, making it much more listenable.

Also, while most of the songs on Down Home Remedy are good though derivative, some are clearly also-rans. “Personal Blues,” “Steppin’ Out Tonight,” and “Baby, Baby, Don’t Do That Anymore” are all also-rans, and “I Wish I Was A Chicken Hawk” barely misses being relegated to the also-ran category because it is a good song overall on the traditional theme of yearning for freedom, but simply has too many verses and too much repetition of the refrain. Joseph “UJ” Miller’s songwriting simply pans that stream of tradition too much, and while he has found a few golden nuggets, he’s also mining a stream that’s been much mined by too many artists and recordings who’ve already done it as good or better.

Now to the strengths of Down Home Remedy. One of them is, in fact, Miller’s songwriting, which does shine on six tracks. The best of his songs is the title song, “Down Home Remedy,” done in two different versions on the CD: on the opening track as a blues-rocker, with acoustic and electric guitars, piano and drums, and as an acoustic number with rhythm and lead guitars on track 11. Track 8, “Rough Groove,” is a melancholy instrumental with rhythm and lead guitars, piano accent and drums that nicely evoke the song’s title; track 10 is another track of melancholy, but this time with the expectation of returning where one belongs, “I’m Coming Home;” “Poor Boy Blues” is positively built around the riff/hesitation of Muddy Water’s classic “Hoochie Coochie Man,” while the ending track, “An Angel To Me,” is loosely built around the opening guitar lines of the Animal’s “House Of The Rising Son.” “40-64 Blues” is an urban original, a song of traffic jams and a closed highway in his home of St. Louis, and “An Angel To Me,” another of many songs of appreciation for a good woman, has the substantive saving grace of straightforward expression that doesn’t descend into bathos and sentimentality.

But the real strength of Down Home Remedy lies in the instrumentation, which is all first-rate. Joseph “UJ” Miller’s guitar playing is solid throughout, whether on chording riff accompaniment, or, as on “Wish I Was A Chicken Hawk” and “An Angel To Me,” where he does single-string picking. Substantive backing various tracks is provided by Kurt Jackson, piano, organ, bass guitar and drums, and drums and percussion by Rick Nenninger. Tim Berg adds tasty solo harmonica as well, along with elegant slide guitar lead solos and accompaniment. Lead acoustic and electric guitar is provided well by both Ron “Hitman” Hendricks, and especially by Melissa Neels. Hendricks’s playing is a solid meal of meat and potatoes; but Neels’s playing is a fancy dinner of a perfectly-cooked rare New York strip with a baked potato loaded with sour cream and chives, and a vegetable of steamed fresh broccoli! .

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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