Valorie Miller – Turtle Shell

January 01, 1970



Hailing from Asheville, NC, a creative nexus for musicians
with a yen for a good strum and a clever turn of phrase, Valorie Miller is an award-winning
singer-songwriter who, for her sixth album, accepted
an unusual challenge: as thanks/payment for doing backing vocals for a friend’s
own recording, she was given two hours of free studio time (at venerable Echo
Mountain Studios, no less) for five successive days. It was a risky gambit –
would she still be fresh enough each day, after having already worked on the
other musician’s session, to fully concentrate on her own songs? would she have
even have enough good material to justify cutting it? – but in the end, the
proof is in the pudding, and Turtle Shell is loaded with goodness.


Nine songs appear, which if you do the math in your head
amounts to just under one track completed per session hour, and which any
professional artist will tell you isn’t exactly proceeding at, ahem, a turtle’s
pace. With Miller on guitar and Dobro player Will Straughan accompanying her on
most of the tunes plus trumpet, piano and bass also on a selected few, the
album’s a sparse, intimate affair, no doubt reflective of the kind of solo
Miller show you might get if you wandered into a local pub or gallery where she
was appearing. Among the highlights: “Haunted Hand,” a vivid incantation of
spirits and lust (both literal and imagined) set to a deft interweaving of
Miller and Straughan’s strings (Straughan also lends a wraithlike backing
vocal); and “American Women,” a saucy, twangy manifesto that likens the female
body to “a country that’s been occupied” by the cosmetic and cosmetic surgery
industries. There’s also the radio-ready “My Acre,” a brooding slice of
self-contemplation featuring a beautifully bowed upright bass line over which
Miller’s keening warble – which is reminiscent of Norah Jones in her
country-rock guise – wanders cautiously but purposefully.


A true gem among the already heavily-bejeweled Americana field, Miller
makes those aforementioned strums and turns of phrase seem easy, so natural and
unaffected is her style. There’s plenty of substance, though, the type upon
which long-term, potentially brilliant careers are built. I’m betting that in
10, 20, 30 years she’ll be looking back and saying to herself, wow, this is turning out to be a pretty good
run after all
. She’s already well on her way.


DOWNLOAD: “My Acre,” “Haunted Hand,” “Drunken Tattoo” FRED MILLS


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