Rhett Miller, singer and guitarist for Old 97s, steps out for his second solo album featuring a dozen pop-rock gems polished to a gleaming state. The first single, "Help Me, Suzanne," is a jangle-pop delicacy all full of 12-string guitar flourishes and handclaps. "I'm With Her" is a love song organized around a big "sha-la-la-la" chorus. The song "Delicate" is powered by Paul McCartney-esque basslines and the album lead-off track "My Valentine" begins like a classic Brian Wilson production.
But Miller and producer George Drakoulias, who made his name working with the likes of The Jayhawks and the Black Crowes, change up the arrangements and stretch Miller's sound to keep things interesting. "Ain't That Strange" even grooves like T. Rex boogie-rock.
Miller hasn't abandoned his alt-country roots, however. The dusty ballad "Fireflies" is a beautiful slide-guitar portrait of doomed lovers, and a fine duet with singer/songwriter Rachael Yamagata. "Never say you'll never leave 'cause you'll never know til you try," the song laments. "In a jar, fireflies only last for one night."
Also reaching backwards to his roots, Miller does a fairly straightforward remake of "Question," a song he recorded with Old 97s for 2001's Satellite Rides album.
Perhaps the album's most striking song is the title song, an elegy for the late Elliott Smith. Miller wrote it the day the news broke about Smith's death. Miller spent some time with Smith during his last years, and Miller himself attempted suicide as a teenager, so Smith's death was a deeply personal subject. "All of the people like me keep a list of the things in this world that we trust," Miller sings. "You are hereinafter referred to as someone who gave it a shot, gave it off, left the cruel world to us."
Fans of Old 97s who enjoyed their more pop-rock leaning and less alt-country material will find The Believer irresistible.