Sometimes I just have to surrender to the country fan inside me.
Rhett Miller: Dreamer
"Swimmin' in Sunshine"
Over the years the Old 97s have brewed up such a tasty blend of rollicking Texas twang and indie-rock sensibility, they've made it easy for me to get my hoedown fix without going full-on Nashville. There's something about them that I instantly loved, an ineffable personal connection that landed them immediately on the list of My Guys. Was it the lead singer's plangent, slightly goofy vocals? Or was it the songwriter's ear-worm melodies and sly lyrics?
The answer is: Both. And considering that the lead singer and the songwriter are the same guy, Rhett Miller -- and considering that he also records as a solo artist -- I cannot explain why it took me this long to finally buy a Rhett Miller album. Especially now that I've listened to it.
The Dreamer is Miller's fourth studio album, following The Believer (2006) and The Instigator (2011) and -- breaking the title pattern -- 2009's Rhett Miller. My musical Christmas list has just grown by three titles.
There's still twang-aplenty, with pedal steel all over this album, and lots of uptempo numbers -- don't expect mopey singer-songwriter angst, even if the title promises dreamy idealism. It's an entire album about love, lost and found, sour and sweet. No Big Statements, no snarky satire, no sonic experiments. Just a lovely record full of instantly loveable tunes. Like this one . . .
I guess if I'd been clever enough to buy this album in June, when it was released, this sundrenched tune would have fit right in. On the other hand, it's even more welcome in the dreariness of pre-winter.
I suppose this isn't technically a love song as much as a wooing song. Over and over in the sweetly soaring refrain he promises, "We'll be swimmin' in sunshine," an image evoking warm glow on bare skin more than actual watersports. Seductive as that image is, however, he balances it with a second refrain -- "What do I kno-o-ow about love / What do I know about love?" That assertion of innocence, claiming his amateur status -- that's the final stroke to knock down her defenses, as the tempo ticks sweetly along, the melodic line bouncy and upbeat.
He's definitely courting like a gentleman: "I've got good intentions here today," he swears in the first verse, his voice high and earnest. "Sometimes intentions pave the way," he adds, confiding in a slightly husky, lower voice -- "You can ask my heart, / Put a lie detector on my heart." That lie detector line is a little absurd, and yet perfect -- how else to prove he's on the up-and-up? It almost makes her feel embarrassed to have doubted him.
And he's not just out for sex, as verse two pleads: "I had a dream involving you and me / Talking on a train, and we'd agree / We got each others' back, / Right before it all goes black." There's a lovely ambiguity to that line everything going black -- perhaps it's just the end of the dream, or maybe a classic movie fade-out as the train goes into a tunnel (and we all know what that means). Or maybe he's saying he'll still have her back even when the world becomes dark and desperate, which of course it will do. I prefer the third meaning, and I'm a sucker for that kind of promise.
So by verse three, he's wheedled us as far as the bedroom: "I've got good intentions here tonight, / I can see you wondering if it's all right / You can ask my heart, / Put a lie detector on my heart." I can just picture him, all puppy-dog eyes and a hand across his chest like a Boy Scout. Who wouldn't give in?
Those twin refrains sail along dreamily through the final repeats, creating their own warm sunshine glow of sound. Think the Lovin' Spoonful's "Daydream" -- yeah, that kind of glow. It may be a seduction song, but it's a feel-good seduction song. And what's so bad about feeling good?