Around these parts The Fox Hunt is a legendary band. Their album, Nowhere Bound was named Nine Bullets’ album of the year in 2007. I was lucky enough to catch The Fox Hunt live a couple of times while I was living in Mississippi. I don’t know how much they toured outside of the southeast and they didn’t last long enough for many of their fans. During those years John R. Miller had a side band called Prison Book Club. They were a rock outfit but John’s songs worked both in bluegrass and in rock. After The Fox Hunt called it a day Prison Book Club was more active. They released two albums and played some shows. Now John R. Miller is back with a solo album, Service Engine.
Service Engine reminds me of Patterson Hood’s Killers & Stars. Both recordings have a living room vibe with stripped down arrangements and well written songs. I can’t tell if it’s just John playing or singing or if he’s got a second guitar on some of the songs, but it’s beauty is in the simplicity and his unique turns of phrase.
In the opening, “Motor’s Fried,” John sings “You don’t sink a boat just because your motor’s fried” and in “Lost In Your Mind” “Because when it’s done the fruit ain’t worth the rine.” Both lines remind of the kind of salt of the earth wisdom that’s all over Chris Offutt’s short story collection Kentucky Straight and in the songs of Billy Joe Shaver. Throughout the album, including the artwork, John effortless blends dirt-under-your-nails realism with genuine human emotion. This kind of thing doesn’t happen enough in music, not some kind of hokey songs for the working man but actual songs with an awareness of work.
I’d love it if The Fox Hunt started making music again (and there are rumors that it’s happening) but more John R. Miller music in any form is welcomed. Service Engine is Essential Listening and worth the seven dollars he’s asking for it over at bandcamp.