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Album Review

THE TALES
of dreams and dark water

I can't believe I'm even thinking this. Russ Miller, who IS The Tales, has to be visiting some pretty dark places to produce what he produces and, as much as I don't want to be like this, I'm actually thinking it is a good thing. Am I heartless? Crazy? A genetic descendant of Hitler? I mean, I stepped over the line a few years ago when I accepted the heartbreak and desolation of Greg Laswell whose wife, out of the blue, left him. I mean, the black hole into which he fell produced Through Toledo, an absolutely magnificent (to my ears) musical journey from utter despair through healing to the light at the end of the emotional tunnel and, as cruel as it seems, a prime example of ends justifying the means. And here's ol' Russ facing black holes of his own and I'm ready to toss him over the edge? What the hell is wrong with me?

Okay, that's oversimplification, but you get what I'm saying here, right? Hell, I don't want to see Miller or Laswell or anyone take a hit for anyone, but when you understand where the music is really coming from, the music comes alive! You hear the depths and you understand, if just a little, why that particular music is and it changes, you know? It becomes more than just music.

I heard something on The Tales' first two albums, Of Love and Methadone and Of Filth and Freedom, this over-the-edge drive. There was a teeth-gnashing bite on the heavier songs and a drone quality to the rest which I could not deny. Even the titles of the albums are over-the-edge, so when Miller sent me a copy of album three, titled Of Dreams and Dark Water, I was more than curious. It had to be a step and I wondered if it was a step forward or.....

After hearing the album all the way through--- numerous times--- I can report that it is, indeed, a step forward. Miller still has that edge, but it has been honed down to a more controlled edge, and that lean toward Southern Rock has been softened. No, he did not lose any of the intensity. In fact, this may be the most intense of the three albums, musically. The guitar work has never been better, at times three lead guitars layered in both harmony and chaos, something at which Miller seems to excel. The influences, though there, float to the surface only rarely, crunchy Southern leads here and Cream-like punch there, always in context of The Tales and Miller's musical vision. The songs themselves have a more flowing aspect than the earlier albums, each leading one into the other, front to back. It is hard to imagine a song titled A Warm Moon giving way to Fear of Summer and then Vomitose Comatose, but that's the way they line up. Each is its own little musical micro-world and exists within itself, yet when you follow the sequence they all fit together--- maybe not seamlessly, but close enough.

The standout track on the album, and believe me, it was hard to pick, has to be [Jordan], a smooth but plodding walk through dual guitar heaven in an unworldly hell. Miller's layered guitars match the harmony vocals which plead Don't let me die... at verse end, a mood-inducer for the psych-influenced leads. Powerful and yet floating, this would be a power ballad if the lyrics would only allow. Instead, it is a plea for life and a damn impressive musical statement.

You know, of course, that Miller plays all instruments. I have this eerie feeling that it is not because of ego or lack of funds but because what he hears inside demands it. He sits in what I assume is a basement studio which he pieced together himself, doodling on the guitar and smoking cigarette after cigarette. It is a way of fending off his demons. I don't want him to have demons, honest, but if they are there and creating albums like Of Dreams & Dark Water help him, I'm all for it. I like to think of it as his process and any process which results in music this good is a good thing. I give it a 95. I can't dance to it, but it's so good I don't even care.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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