Outlaw country should flourish in days like these. Nashville’s movers and shakers have taken the style so far afield of its roots that it is indistinguishable from much of pop or AOR releases. Similar circumstances during the mid-1960’s through the early-1970’s helped give birth to the initial wave of this movement embodied by artists such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, among others. Singer, musician, and songwriter Marc Miner, along with some others, are keeping this flame a lit for modern audiences while never aping their illustrious predecessors. His collection Smile While You’re Wasted travels across rough country, down mean streets, but it is ultimately the story of a survivor, the lessons he’s learned, and what he’s seen along the way. Call it whatever you like — traditional, outlaw, singer/songwriter — it’s rugged and honest musical art.
Miner knows a little about being an outlaw and living on society’s margins. His American father and German mother met in Poland and the family relocated to Vienna, Austria following his birth. The allure of music captivated Miner at an early age but wasn’t enough to keep him at home. At sixteen years old, Miner secured a job aboard an America bound container ship in the year 2000 and arrived in the United States soon after. Life in the Southern United States and its rich traditional music history inspired him, but he ran afoul of the law and found himself returning to Vienna. The eleven tracks included on Smile While You’re Wasted encompass much of the hardscrabble life with ample musicality and an often edgy, near fatalistic attitude.
Miner’s affection for outlaw country and other strands of traditional music doesn’t preclude him from exploring his love for rock. The album opener “Warm Welcome” begins with muscular pacing and Mike Eggard’s blistering lead guitar. It is a straight-forward track that doesn’t intend on remaking the musical wheel, but Miner’s vocal skills help catapult it even higher. There’s a rambunctious zest for life in his phrasing and embodies a wide range of emotions. “Border Town Bar” cops an arrangement reminiscent of songs such as “Six Days on the Road”, among others, but Miner brings his own experiences to bear. It, once again, never intends to remake the songwriting wheel, but nonetheless has a strong identity rather than coming across as rank imitation.
The explicit content introduced in the preceding song continues with the Jimmy Buffett-flavored “Easy Street”. It has a bluesy vibe missing from Mr. Cheeseburger in Paradise thanks to Miner’s harmonica playing and it is much more lyrically rugged and hard-boiled than anything from Buffett. It’s an enjoyable performance though a throwaway effort compared to other tracks. The effective use of dynamics powering “Whiskey & Weed” will satisfy many listeners and Miner pairs with imagery and storytelling that explodes like an amphetamine rush. Miner’s vocals are as convincing as ever and he has no difficulty maintaining the breakneck pace defining much of the track.
Pat Lyons’ pedal steel playing adds classic country color to “Empty Bottle Blues”, but there’s more. Martin L.A. Dickinson’s drumming is a high point throughout the album and this is one of his best performances on the release; he is spot-on from the first second to last. The finale “Lasr Words” is a languid closer but aching with emotion. The wellspring of this emotion is Miner’s voice and he graces listeners with an elegiac curtain illustrating the depths of his artistry. Marc Miner’s Smile When You’re Wasted is unapologetic, brash, and full of stories. It isn’t a perfect release, but scores often and cuts deep.