Ben Miller Band brings a punk spirit to Americana on 'Choke Cherry Tree'
New West Records

Some bands don't fit nicely into one narrow category. You could easily place Ben Miller Band in the Americana category, but that's a pretty vague categorization - especially for this band.

When you see the title of the first song is "Nothing Gets Me Down", you might expect an upbeat song. That's not exactly the case. This is written from the point of view who experiences a variety of misfortunes but doesn't let it affect him negatively. There are some haunting sounds in the background like you might hear in a Drive-By Truckers song, and the instrumental break includes a guitar part that brings The Flying Burrito Brothers to mind. Despite the solemn mood of the song, you can't help but smile about a guy who doesn't get down even when his bike gets stolen and he gets so lit up that he falls in the tub.

"One More Time" is a complete change of pace from the opening song. This song is kind of a combination of Americana and punk. driven by a beat that is sure to get you tapping your feet. The guitar is heavily distorted and takes on a pretty heavy and fuzzy sound. It's certainly not the sort of tone you expect from an Americana band. On top of that, the vocals (both lead and backing) are much more amplified.   

"Redwing Blackbird" is a song that grabs the attention. Part of the reason for that is that Rachel Ammons takes the lead vocals on this song. In addition, the sound just seems to swirl around you as you listen. The beat gets you moving your head and the guitar is loud and distorted. You hear some flute as part of the swirl in the background, and the harmony between Ammons and Miller is impressive.

"Sketchbook" is another good example of the range of this band. This song includes a fiddle, but that's not the only thing makes this song different. The verses feature the rhythm section prominently while you hardly hear the guitar. In the midst of the busy melody, Miller tells a rambling story about drawing in his sketchbook in the desert. At the very least the story seems like it might have been influenced by Hunter S. Thompson.

This album may not fit easily into any category, but it is a great example of the songwriting and arranging abilities of this band. You never really know what to expect stylistically, but you realize that every song is well-crafted. Choke Cherry Tree (New West Records) will be available on Jan. 26.