november 2010 header
border crossings


The Gift That Keeps On Giving
By David McGee

Scott Miller
FAY Recordings

Scott Miller was heard from earlier this year, on one of 2010’s finest albums, For Crying Out Loud, and now he returns, unassumingly, with a stirring seven-song EP for the holiday season available at his website. Christmas Gift may be slight in terms of its tunestack, but it is bountiful indeed in profound spirituality—unspoken, but felt in the unstudied beauty of these original songs and interesting covers—and bone-deep honesty of the entire endeavor. Two of the seven songs are Miller originals: sounding very much like Rodney Crowell in his dry, wry drawl, he tells the story the three wise men from a different perspective in “The Kingdom Has Come/Journey Of the Magi,” as if it were taking place in a harsh winter on barren southwestern plains, where the friendlies are few and far between, what little shelter could be found is overpriced, and there is considerable skepticism about the task at hand—“Were we lead all that way for birth, or death?” With only his wiry voice and subdued acoustic guitars, Miller muses, “I’d seen birth and death, but I thought they were different/We returned to our places and our kingdoms/no longer at ease here, with an alien people clutching their gods/I should be glad of another death…” It’s told in the past tense, and at the end he speaks of hearing about a babe born in a manger, making it sound like he and his buddies had found nothing more than Kurtz in the heart of darkness, no redemption ensuing.

millerThat’s dark, but it’s not the tenor of the EP as a whole. Miller’s ensuing original song, “Yes, Virginia,” is a rocking acoustic workout about a family gathering from parts far and near to exult in their gifts to each other—a bit of celebration expressed in a stinging guitar solo and the exuberant piano bolstering the arrangement. John Prine’s “Christmas In Prison,” one of the most overlooked of seasonal songs, gets a welcome interpretation here, in a tender treatment with a gospel feel in the expressive piano and humming organ, as well as the restrained enthusiasm in Miller’s soulful vocal—restrained, because the singer’s holiday festivities are somewhat muted by the realities of his incarceration—“the spotlight in the big yard/swings ‘round with the gun/but the spot lights the snowflakes/like the dust in the sun/it’s Christmas in prison/there’ll be music tonight/and I’ll probably get homesick/I love you, goodnight”—a beautiful, whimsical Prine lyric that Miller delivers with precisely the right balance of ache and bemusement.

Elsewhere, Miller offers a lovely, subdued country reading of Roger Miller’s gentle Yuletide missive to a young ‘un, “Old Toy Trains,” with an accordion and mandolin suggesting a nursery rhyme ambiance; and follows this with a stark, guitar-and-harmonica rendering of Neil Young’s “Star of Bethlehem,” a tale of loneliness and despair, actually, that tries to find something positive in a shard of light down the hallway, as if it might lead to a change in fortune. Miller then ends his Yuletide missive with a reverential piano and harmonica rendering of the majestic “Holy, Holy, Holy,” a 180 from the instrumental he had blessed us with earlier, a spirited bluegrass workout on “Joyful, Joyful,” with John Taylor strutting out and away, or plucking more deliberative passages, on banjo, shadowed by a sturdy guitar (either Miller’s or that of Hector Qirko or T.M. Steed). That’s kind of where Miller’s taken us, emotionally, on Christmas Gift, to highs and lows of the Yuletide, every song much like the presents under the tree—you never know what you’re getting until you unwrap each one. Maybe you’ll be surprised.

Scott Miller’s Christmas Gift is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024