Silver Rain; that’s a good name. This album was released back in 2005 (now in the last decade), but it is so classic Marcus Miller that I had to include it. Marcus Miller’s hallmark has always been this double thumb string snapping bass played with singing-like melodies, which make his style instantly recognizable. His playing is also heavy. Earthquake heavy. Groove heavy. And melody heavy. Brilliant.
The first two tracks are totally bass-oriented, with the first track having an uber-cool introduction “Marcus darling”. Wait. All of them are bass oriented. I find it consistently amazing how amazingly melodic his playing his, with such a massively percussive attack. He has taken the neck-snapping thumb-bass sound to uncharted areas on the back of his smooth R n’ B production and melodic playing. Despite his bowel-loosening technical ability, though, he makes it a point to make the bass sing, using fast passages only as icing on the cake, making it nicer and more accessible. Even so, don’t expect this to be the next Avril Lavigne. It should be clear by now that this is not stuff the Britney Spears fanboy will take to, but give the snappy tone some time to sink in (I recommend “Power” from M2 as a first listen), and you will be enjoying before you can say ‘bass solos suck’.
One other thing that will be instantly clear to a lot of people is that Miller has exercised his frankly prodigious arranging abilities to breathe new life into older songs. In plain english, he has done a whole lot of covers. I’ll dwell on these for a bit. The cover of “Frankenstein” is excellent, with the main riff having this stomping quality that makes it worth head-banging to. Even so, I must point out that it meanders a lot in the middle without much purpose, going from solo to solo without much conviction. The most creative part of the album for me comes with the surprising, slow-blues interpretation of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. Classical music fans will throw up their hands in disgust and attack the disc with machetes, but I think its a daring interpretation that pulls the song off well enough. The Stevie Wonder cover is great and again, Miller does his party trick of making slap bass really, really sing. Kudos. Eric Clapton also comes over to add one more reggae song to his repertoire with “Silver Rain”, which I think is the best song here, because of its groove and the relief from instrumental tracks. It is also wonderfully arranged, with some great horns and choruses and things. I needn’t tell you anymore. All the covers are done in typical style.
Despite all the praise, I must get down to the flaws as well, I guess. I can’t readily think of many, but one would definitely be the fact that while his thumbing is prodigious and brilliant, I can’t always stomach the snap, despite being a bassist myself. I wish he had used finger picking for his leads more often. Then again, that’s just me. Also, I think this album is a little too long. Yes, I understand that a showcase for a man as talented as Miller cannot be anything but prolix, but I still wish it was a little shorter. Despite being a huge fan, I was tiring by the end of the album.
I guess with so many tracks (15), I must give you a set of my faves. That would be “Frankenstein”, “Moonlight Sonata”, “Boogie on Reggae Woman”, “Silver Rain” and “Power of Soul”, all of which are intelligently arranged and are basically sophisticated music. In fact, everything about Marcus Miller and his music has a very sophisticated, post-Duke Ellington vibe to it. From the gorgeous arrangements, to the fact that he is a bass player to the (VERY COOL!) pork-pie hat. I think everyone should listen to Miller for various reasons. I go for the laid back vibe, the bass playing and the arrangements. You can go because you like the tunes that are there, or just because you find Pork Pie Hats cool. Whatever, I think this album has something for everybody, though with 14 full length tracks (and one short interlude), it’s a bit too long. Notwithstanding the length, this sounds right.
– El Bajista
Ok, it’s a mix of styles, but I’ll categorize this under R n B for convenience.