When Scott Miller was preparing to write the songs which would become his third solo album Citation, he rented an apartment in an area in his native Knoxville called Fort Sanders, a neighborhood which used to have a vibrant arts and music scene, but has lost its vitality in recent years. Miller describes it as a place where "The streets [are] filled not by hillbilly hippies, but by rich kids with healthy hair, perfect teeth, their parent's SUVs, and their arms permanently bent up to their ears holding cell phones." In short, it turned out to be an ideal place for Miller's typical contemplation of history and worries for the future.
Miller is always a student of American history, and frequently writes vignettes of broken dreams and broken people set before its colorful backdrop. He begins the album, however, delving into more personal history. "Freedom's a Stranger" lends the album its title, a song looking back fondly on teeange romance in a Chevy Citation. After contemplating this march of time since this event from his past, Miller writes, "I don't mind getting older, if you get smarter when you do."
"Only Everything" is a rocker exploring both pain and joy in romance. "Let a woman in your heart and at first she starts with care," Miller sings amidst riffing guitars. "Before too long, she makes it her home/Just to rearrange without any thought of what you got down there."
"The Only Road"--cowritten by his former V-roys bandmate Mic Harrison--is a sad slice-of-life during WWII. Miller does a duet on this track with Reba Russell, a singer who has sung with artists ranging from blues guitarist Jimmy Thackery to U2 on their 'Rattle & Hum' album.
"Say Ho" is a great upbeat song written about Sam Houston, who was a Virginian and Tennessee resident before becoming a famous Texan.
Miller reserves perhaps his fiercest guitar licks for an emotional critique of fighting in the Middle East in "8 Miles a Gallon." The song's narrator declares satirical purported reasons for having troops deployed on faraway deserts--"Democracy, Gasoline and world wide rock 'roll"--and admits "I'm praying everyday that you can make it through the battle/So I don't feel so guilty 'bout 8 miles per gallon."
And Miller and his band do a great Crazy Horse-style job on the album's one cover song, a rollicking take on Neil Young's "Hawks and Doves."
Citation showcases Miller's ongoing evolution as a talented songwriter, moving effortlessly from small personal exploration to tuneful historical tale and back again. As Miller writes in "Say Ho," "if you're not going to make your dreams epic/Why bother to dream anything at all?" Miller thinks big on this album, and backs it up with great music.