THERE'S A LINE in the song "Swimmin' in Sunshine" that Rhett Miller says sums up his latest solo album, The Dreamer. "It's not a concept record, but if it were, it would be, 'What do I know about love?'" says the songwriter and Old 97's frontman, revealing that the line is both universal and autobiographical. "You spend life looking for love, you find it, then there's a whole new set of challenges."
Miller is en route to Washington, DC, with the Serial Lady Killers, his longtime touring band named after one of his better-known lines from the Old 97's classic "Barrier Reef." They played on all of The Dreamer's 13 songs, which bypass the glossy pop leanings of Miller's earlier solo releases for dustier country trails. Those who have followed the Old 97's over the past two decades will feel right at home with this collection. "It was exactly what I wanted," says Miller. "Keep it simple and trust the musicians."
Once a point of intra-band contention, Miller's solo career has come to seamlessly coexist with the Old 97's over the years. And as the 97's have taken on a more '60s garage bent with recent releases, Miller's gentler, twangier numbers have remained in his back pocket. Originally intended to be a stripped-down acoustic record, The Dreamer morphed into a full-band effort. The album still remains sparse and cozy, matching the tone of Miller's lyrics, which delve less into the usual (and unusual) character studies, and instead aim for simple sentiment. It's made all the more sweet with the addition of vocalists Rachael Yamagata, the Spring Standards' Heather Robb, and country legend Rosanne Cash.
Miller produced the album himself this time around and released it on his own Maximum Sunshine Records. Funded through a successful PledgeMusic campaign, the new record is about as DIY as it gets, and The Dreamer is a quintessential release for Miller in songwriting and production. The approach feels natural.
"It's just me naked," he says, adding, "I won't say completely nude, but perhaps in swim trunks."