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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Shelley Miller - When It's All Gone, You Come Back

Shelley Miller - When It's All Gone, You Come Back
2009, Shelley Miller

Chicago’s Shelley Miller lives life on the seams. Miller performs both solo and with a band, The Bitter Optimists; she teaches music, and in her free time she’s known to take her own life into her hands on her bicycle through the streets of Chicago. Miller is a decorated talent, winning songwriting awards including VH1’s Song Of The Year Contest, the Mid-Atlantic Songwriting Contest and Just Plain Folks. Miller’s third CD, When It’s All Gone, You Come Back continues Miller’s tendency toward brashly candid poetics, not so much telling stories as putting you, the listeners, into moments and situations, and occasionally even into the hearts and minds of people. Miller is lyrically adept, spinning dark beauty full of laughter, sadness, love and tragedy in her songs.

Miller opens with “Buckle To Burn”, a classic country tune with a modern twist. Miller takes us inside a relationship built on one partner’s dysfunction and the other partner’s ragged attempts to clean it up. The song is a tragedy where the outcome is certain from the start, but Miller makes the journey interesting. “Blame The Sky” is a rather poetic depiction of fatalism in relationships; a dark and sad song full of a noble, pain-staking beauty. “It Was Billie” has a distinctive throwback feel.

“All The Way Down” explores the beauty and joys of winter in song; a love song of sorts and an amazing depiction of moments and experiences that might only be found in the coldest part of the year. “Fool For Loving You” is an angry rocker; all the things that perhaps should have been said when the relationship was still intact. Miller depicts an “edge of the world” moment on “5 a.m., Western Ave”, using the cover of darkness to ponder all of the things she wishes she could say by the light of day. This is an amazing tune, perhaps the most sonically satisfying song on the album. Listen to the cello part here as it provides an amazing counter-melody to Miller’s vocal. Miller shows her life philosophy (perhaps) on “I Don’t Mind”, a tune about living for and in the moment and finding comfort in another without worrying what tomorrow will bring. It’s a sweet love song that is certain to wind up on scores of mix tapes. Without getting too literary, it’s easy to imagine Miller’s song “Texarkana” as a retelling of Anton Chekhov’s The Swan Song. It’s a reckless monologue cast in the hopeless of having lost everything you’ve ever loved, and Miller sings it as if she’s lived it. Miller says goodnight with “Love’s Not Crazy”, taking the listeners into her confidence one final time. It’s a lovely tune, a bit lighter than some of the other material on When It’s All Gone, You Come Back, but a great way to say goodbye for now.

Shelley Miller is a songwriter’s songwriter; the sort that other artists will pick through her catalog over time for songs to cover. While this is true, it’s hard to imagine most artists interpreting Miller’s songs with the same mix of comedy, tragedy and warm-hearted grit that she manages on When It’s All Gone, You Come Back. Miller inhabits her songs like a second skin, not only inviting listeners into highly personal and intricate moments, but painting them into the picture.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Shelley Miller at or You can purchase When It's All Gone, You Come Back as either a CD or Download from

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