An interesting companion piece of sorts to the August debut from Hanna-McEuen, Platinum, the second album by fellow second-generation performer Dean Miller (son of Roger “King of the Road” Miller) further demonstrates the necessity of establishing some distance between one’s lineage and one’s unique artistic merits. On Platinum, Miller emerges foremost as a fitfully brilliant songwriter. Working with multiple co-writers, a handful of Miller’s compositions—“On A Good Day,” especially, but also opener “Hard Love” and “Stronger Than Your Love”—rank among the most creative, clever songwriting coming out of Nashville these days, songs that are grounded in the working-class vernacular without becoming pandering and show a wicked self-analytical streak. But for every “On A Good Day,” which conveys a man’s weary resignation to his inability to “get out of [his] own way” for the betterment of his relationship, there’s a “Yes Man,” which indulges the genre’s unfortunate predilection for turning any and all catchphrases and buzzwords into instantly-dated songs, or the mixed-metaphors of a “Whiskey Wings” on balance.
That so few contemporary country releases have high points as glorious as “Hard Love” or “Coming Back To You” is beside the point, really, because the inconsistency of the writing is so ultimately frustrating that Platinum becomes a more demanding listen than it needs be. That Miller’s vocal style is largely characterized by a blunted affect doesn’t help matters either. When he sings, “I like to drive at a hundred and five” on “105,” he does so without any of the drive or the joy present in the rollicking music behind him, and his attempt at scat-singing on his cover of his father’s “I’ve Been A Long Time Leaving” borders on embarrassing. Still, the polished, modern country production and the occasional glimpses of exceptional songwriting (it’s hard to believe that the hilarious, album-closing “Music Executive” would’ve been given a pass were he signed to Sony or Dreamworks) outweigh the limitations of Miller’s vocals. Platinum may not live up to the commercial status of its title, but it affirms that Miller certainly has the potential to make quite a name for himself on the strength of his songwriting.