His critically-lauded albums had made little money and Miller, himself injured in a...
Chris Jones 2003-06-11
By the early 70s Steve Miller was a beaten man. Still only in his mid-twenties, the precocious purveyor of acid-tinged blues rock had seen his stomping ground of the West Coast crumble at the hands of 'the man 'and had seen his band (which had featured a young Boz Skaggs) whittled away to nothing. His critically-lauded albums had made little money and Miller, himself injured in a car crash, was on the verge of quitting for good. Times were not good for the man once referred to by Miles Davis as a 'sorry-ass cat'. Yet a sabbatical spent licking his wounds and recapturing his muse was to prove his making. Within a year the 'Gangster of Love' was back with an album that was about to put him in the platinum league and sign his meal ticket forever. The album was The Joker and was rapidly followed by his masterpiece, Fly Like An Eagle. With a fresh band and a new fire in his playing, Steve was back. His return to favour is gloriously captured on this double live CD.
Taken from two shows separated by three years; this album is as good a testament to Miller's numerous strengths (and occasional weaknesses) as you could get. The first set, from 1973, has Steve retaining his stock in trade blues repertoire and blending it with the newer, fresher material. By the second set (from 1976) he's incorporated the stylish harp playing of the wonderfully monickered Norton Buffalo and has pushed further into the pop-rock that he was surely born to make.
Many people forget that his early work was coloured by a restless experimentation in the studio. Early successes such as Sailor were peppered with sound effects and state of the art electronics. Miller used this experience to good use in later years. The introduction to ''Fly Like An Eagle'', the floaty ''Wild Mountain Honey'' and the gorgeous re-versioning of ''Song for Our Ancestors'' bear witness to this.
He's also often accused of simplistic song writing, but the simplicity itself was a mark of sophistication. It's true that he wasn't above re-tooling his own back catalogue in search of new material. It's a technique made all too obvious when, on the first set, an early version of ''Fly...'' is immediately followed by ''My Dark Hour'', from which he nicked the opening guitar figure! Even ''The Joker'' contains references to characters from his previous work - yet it's his unerring sense of great pop dynamics that make one forgive his self-plagiarisation.
However it's his obvious joy at being back and playing to an appreciative audience that really comes across in this excellent album. The voice is wonderfully lithe; the guitar is as bluesy and funky as ever; and when he speaks of 'the pompitous of love' well - you just have to listen...