There are so many good bands around these days that some of them inevitably pass me by, for a while at least. As this is Dee Miller’s third album, I have to add her to the list of “sorry I missed the earlier ones, now I have to buy yet more blues albums”. Dee is from Minneapolis…all I know about the ‘twin cities’ is from the extremely good Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers novels by the outstanding John Sandford…if you like humour in your detective novels as well as blood, then give them a try. Anyway, as I was saying, Dee is from Minneapolis and began her singing career in a blues band with one of the best and daftest names ever…Minnesota Barking Ducks! She formed her own band, less imaginatively but descriptively called the Dee Miller Band. The aforementioned third album is entitled Leopard Print Dress and embodies (pun intended) blues, soul and good old-fashioned R’n’B across original compositions and some surprising covers.
It all starts off Hot And Sweaty (!) with this swinging, dance song. Full of rollicking piano and, if you listen closely, some neat guitar parts as Dee gives an effective R’n’B/soul diva performance…the piano solo is all over the keyboard in a good way. Dee obviously has a place in her heart for the redoubtable Etta James as she takes on Strongest Weakness…here it gets a funky guitar and electric piano backing that means you don’t really recognize it until the perfectly pitched vocal cuts in. It does work and is well thought out and, for me, I like it more when I think of it as a new song rather than a cover. The only problem is that the guitar is way down in the mix…if it had a more prominent showing, this would make me think of a Prince song. The guitar solo is a damn good one, even if it lacks a top end in the production; unless my review copy is compressed too heavily. The real surprise cover is next as Dee and the band take on the Eagles ‘classic’ Take It To The Limit…now I have to admit, I don’t own any Eagles music as I find them way too light and feathery and genre bland…Dee takes it, slows it down a bit and turns it into a sort of gospel version with subtle guitar, Hammond and piano. Sorry, Dee, I still can’t take to this even though the imaginative approach will appeal to some. Much better in my view, is the title track Leopard Print Dress…this has lead vocals shared with Craig Clark and has some slinky, sexy slide guitar soloing to salve my guitar fetish. This is a blues-rock song with panache and rolls along just great. Back In The Saddle is next and keeps the momentum with a horn infused slice of boogie-woogie. The piano takes you into the smoke filled bars (ahh, those were the days!) of yore as it barrels along; Dee’s vocal has the right bite to match the story, and the piano and sax solos are inventive and entertaining. Last Two Dollars has Clark on lead vocals on this slice of soul, made famous by Johnnie Taylor; his guitar is a star too as it backs his voice well and the electric piano solo is the right side of plinky before the guitar takes over and puts in a great, too short and too low rock style phrased solo. I Sing The Blues is a great shuffle with Vonderharr’s harp adding colour and atmosphere over a blues-rock riff. This Wooten, Bridgeman composition was made her own by Etta James and Dee does a fabulous interpretation. Although I will always favour the Moody/Marsden version, this is bloody good too. Midnight In Harlem was written by Derek Trucks and Mike Mattison, which is a recommendation right there. Dee puts suitable depth to the vocals and the harp is nicely subtle and guest Dylan Salfer does a great version of the Trucks solo…no easy feat. Black Cat Bone was prefaced on the original by some playful talking from Albert; fortunately they leave that out here and turn it into a funk workout courtesy of the guitar and electric piano. It does work very well actually, although some may cry sacrilege, it is my favourite here because of the clever transposition of the guitar solo with some tasty wah and fuzz. Craig again steps up to the microphone and does a damn good job too. The album closes out with the song Steppin’ addressed to all her “girlfriends out there who’ve been done wrong”. The guitar is the cornerstone of this hefty blues with a rock take on a blues riff and some nice phrasing sprinkled liberally throughout. The piano and then a brilliant rock guitar solo make it even stronger.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable album with some real highlights in Black Cat Bone and Steppin’. There are a couple of weaker moments, but it is still a worthwhile addition to any blues and/or soul collection. I will blame the compression on my review copy for the muddier aspects of the production and I will seek out a cleaner copy so that I can better enjoy the nuances of Clark’s guitar in particular.
EIGHTdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Hot and Sweaty
- Strongest Weakness (Nicholson, Bramlett)
- Take It To The Limit (Meisner, Henley, Frey)
- Leopard Print Dress
- Back In the Saddle
- Last Two Dollars (George Henry Jackson)
- I Sing The Blues (Wooten, Bridgeman)
- Midnight In Harlem (Trucks, Mattison)
- Black Cat Bone (Albert Collins)
Dee Miller: vocals
Craig Clark: guitar, vocals
Eric Meyer: bass, vocals
Mike Dubois: drums
Jesse Mueller: keyboards
John Pinckaers: piano
Toby Marshall: Hammond B3
Steve Vonderharr: harmonica
Dylan Salfer: slide guitar