The Wall Chargers’ former frontman, Landon Lloyd Miller, goes it alone – in his own sparse, intimate way
Release Date: 4th March 2022
Label: Twin Mesa
Formats: CD, Vinyl
Formerly the frontman of Shreveport, Louisiana-based “space Western” outfit, The Wall Chargers, Texan singer/songwriter Landon Lloyd Miller has struck out on his own for the first time to produce his debut solo album, Light Shines Through. And it’s like nothing you’ll have ever heard before…
Sparse, restrained – sometimes almost to the point of being primitive – Light Shines Through is a collection of nine intimate, personal, often biographical songs that take their influence from folk, murder ballads, country classics and lots of calling points along that extensive continuum. It’s a fascinating album; Landon’s unique, vibrato-laden vocals take centre stage in every song. Instrumental backing is soft and subtle, but strings, organ, piano, horns, mandolin and slide guitar all take their lightly-applied places alongside the acoustic guitar and soft percussion that provide the staple accompaniment to Landon’s voice, whilst the musical stylings manage to ensnare doo-wop, calypso, pop, country, ragtime and even a splash of funk.
Hailing from a musical family – father was a church minister, mother a travelling choir director – Landon grew up amongst the swamps and fishing villages of Northern Louisiana. In a music-filled home, he’d learned to be a percussionist by the age of 14 and, by the time he was 15, he was playing guitar and writing songs; his influences included Bob Dylan, Roger Miller, Conor Oberst, Roy Acuff and The Louvin Brothers – all artists who, as Landon is keen to point out, “…were willing to talk to talk about real life, personal troubles, and grey-area scenarios” – an approach that Landon has applied to his own songwriting occupation ever since.
With Light Shines Through, Landon has taken a deliberate left turn – away from the “larger than life stomp” of The Wall Charges – to embrace the introspective, intimate material that we have here. As Landon himself explains: “I’ve always been nervous to say something that was truly mine, in case someone doesn’t like it. But Light Shines Through isn’t the work of a person who’s hiding behind a band’s moniker. It isn’t fiction. It’s me.”
And that sparse sound that I found to be the most striking feature of Light Shines Through was very deliberate too. Once again, Landon – who co-produced the album, as well as playing an impressive range of instruments – takes up the story: “We didn’t throw the kitchen sink at every song. There was reserve. There was restraint. We asked ourselves what each song needed, and we didn’t add much beyond that.” And that approach, I’m pleased to confirm, was a wise decision.
Opening track, Light is Growing, gives a few clues of what to expect on the album. Landon’s voice is right there – at the front of the mix – whilst guitars, percussion and a just-about-detectable organ chop and swirl away in the background and the rhythm falls somewhere between calypso and funk. It’s all very unusual – and not at all unpleasant.
The light-touch instrumentation continues in Bluebonnet – the album’s lead single and the first of several outstanding tracks. It’s a 50’s croon that wouldn’t be out of place of the first Elvis album – strummed acoustic guitar provides the drive, with splashes of piano and (what sounds like) a cello adding the zest. In complete contrast, Sunglasses is almost psychedelic, whilst the folkier Feel it Again takes us back in time – perhaps to the 1930s – with its shuffling drum rhythm, persistent acoustic guitar line and some lovely mandolin and slide guitar touches that give the song a Hawaiian aura.
Next up – it’s a piano ballad! String My Love Down is slow, dramatic and intimate and Landon’s nasal vibrato vocal conveys a slightly detached emotion that is perfectly suited to the song’s somewhat uncomfortable message. And that unique vocal gives a similarly disorienting edge to Only Dreaming, a song that, in other hands, would just maybe have been a highly commercial pop hit. But I prefer to imagine it just the way it is – it’s another of my favourite songs on the album and I particularly like Landon’s articulation in the song’s refrain of “I was own-er-ly dreaming” and the way he brings the song to an abrupt end with the punchline – “Why d’you wake me up?”
Described in the album’s press release as “a bare-boned folk song,” Landslide is, without doubt, the sparsest, most intimate song on album that, as I’ve, perhaps repeatedly, explained, is packed with sparse, intimate songs. This time, there’s just acoustic guitar and harmonica to provide the counterpoint to Landon’s voice and the production is such that you can close your eyes and really believe that Landon is there in your room, performing just for you.
The dreamy Tread Lightly does exactly what you’d expect – it treads lightly. Another intimate acoustic song, the only embellishments are ultra-light percussion, a softly tinkling guitar and the softest, subtlest backing vocals that you’re ever likely to hear. And it works!
The album is brought to appropriate close by its title track. Landon sings around a simple piano theme, before a delightful arrangement of strings join the fun to provide a convincing sense of finality and closure. The plucked strings that take the song to its conclusion represent the closest thing on the album to a “big” sound and, all in all, it’s the perfect way to end a singular album. Not for everyone, perhaps, but anyone who enjoys intimacy, subtlety and a unique expression of the American music of the 20th century will certainly find lots to enjoy on Light Shines Through.
Watch the Official video to Bluebonnet – the album’s lead single – here: