Miller Anderson – Bright City (Remastered & Expanded): Album Review

The journeyman guitarist’s first solo release brushing up surprisingly well, showing what coulda been.

Release date: 3rd March 2023

Label: Esoteric (Cherry Red)

Format: CD

Funny old year 1971; just ask David Hepworth, although I am uncertain whether this album was ever on his shortlist, the one around proving his thesis about that year being the one above all others. Don’t let that put you off, though, as this actually does epitomise the, admittedly, sometime schizophrenic avenues that rock music was taking back then, embracing influences aplenty, and absorbing ideas way beyond a standard 4:4 boogie. Which explains perhaps also why this wan’t quite the anticipated breakthrough, with a sense that management might be pulling a different direction from the player himself. But we’ll get to that.

By 1971 Anderson had garnished himself a decent name, as singer and guitarist in the Keef Hartley Band. a brass-heavy blues band, unafraid to dip into jazzier waters. We gave their output a recent spin, as another part of Cherry Red’s grand ambition to revisit every page of rock’s back pages, watching Anderson start off just as the singer, on second guitar, before taking on lead duties of that instrument as well. Frankly, after 5 albums, it seemed only right for it to be his turn to take the spotlight. Let’s see how he done.

Opener, Alice Mercy (To Whom It May Concern), seems to start off on the wrong foot, at least to acolytes of his earlier band, Anderson straining in a higher register than his usual range. Don’t get me wrong, it is a sturdy enough rock ballad, resplendent with harpsichord and Hammond as the prominent textures, the band behind him playing impeccably, but it feels to be taking too much of a prompt from some of the competition of the day, Terry Reid or Ian Gillan perhaps, somewhere from the screamier end of the spectrum. Or that nice young Robert Plant. That surprise settles on further listens, but it, with the passage of the years, it all seems a tad forced. Especially as the rest of the album unfolds. Which even this first track does, seguing into the bracketed part of the song, switching into acoustic mode with flute. A delightful gear change, with Lyn Dobson, a Hartley alumnus, providing the flute. To my ears, very like the quieter side of early King Crimson, and I am uncertain why it wasn’t gifted a track of its own.

Returning and staying with the theme of impeccable playing, which is unsurprising, given most were erstwhile colleagues from the revolving door of Keef Hartley’s band, so the likes of Mick Weaver, Peter Dines, are here, both on keyboards, as is good old Gary Thain, whose bass is, as always, exemplary. Drums are from Eric Dillon (Fat Mattress). All the songwriting came courtesy of Anderson, much as he had provided the bulk of Hartley’s material.

Second song, Age Of Progress, fits far better Anderson’s vocal timbre, and is a floaty and folky number. With his vocals not a million miles from the croon of Glen Campbell, the song is strong enough to have been written by Jimmy Webb. It gets slowly all a bit wiggy as it progresses, introducing and adding the premier vocal talent, on bvs, of Madeleine Webb, Liza Strike and Tracy Miller. Terrific song, More meat and potatoes rock now, if with a bib gourmand, with tremendous bass and Hammond underpinning a standard blues-rock workout, Nothing In This World. It also allows Anderson to stretch out a bit instrumentally himself, with some tasty guitar.

This completely wrongfoots the listener for the then almost Tim Buckley-like title track, drenched in strings, which, in a good balancing act, are really rather good. The arrangement was provided by, remember him, Junior Campbell. A memorable lyric, since lifted, I am sure, by others: “I ask for nothing; and get that in return.” This song is a grower, and his vocal makes this a highlight. It was the only single that came from the album and I don’t believe it troubled the charts much, which seems a shame. Sadly, when the strings get reprised, it is for the decidedly MOR Grey Broken Morning. Even knowing it the wonderful Harold Beckett present, with some characteristically consummate flugelhorn, that still can’t take away the feel of daytime Radio 2. And during Jimmy Young’s interminable tenure at that.

Crossing back to the rockier side of the road, High Tide, High Water is a stonker. Rhythm guitar from Neil Hubbard underpins a choppy mid-paced swagger, and, if I’m dizzy from the changes of direction, I’m loving this. Miller adds some further economically effective lead guitar. At the risk of playing the game of pick the influences, here it is Free I hear. Did I say the guitar is great? Good bit of organ/piano interplay, too. Which, to stick with the road, sides, middle and crossing, references, leads into the closer, Shadows Cross My Wall, where the congas and flute bring Barleycorn-era Traffic to mind. Hell, it even mentions 10,000, if not headmen, people. Dobson gives it some more great tootle, and is a reminder of how good this increasingly forgotten instrument can be. Good cross-play from Miller on, this time, acoustic.

That’s it, then, the original album. We don’t get the live version of High Tide, High Water that cropped up on a 2010 re-release, a chunky and looser version, but we get the flip of the single, Another Time, Another Place and a slew of live and radio offerings. Another Time, Another Place is a delicate acoustic-picked ballad, with some orchestration, with the flute of Dobson sprinkled liberally throughout. It’s as good as the A side and not dissimilar in its Buckley-esque, even a touch of Donovan, resonance. Had it replaced Grey Broken Morning on the album, it might have fared better?

Both the live sessions, for a Sounds of the Seventies slot, and for John Peel’s In Concert, were recorded on the same day, oddly enough. The first, in the morning, at Maida Vale and the second at the Paris Theatre, later on. Each feature the same core of the album line-up, but with Pete Wingfield replacing Mick Weaver. From the first performance, that clunky opening segue is deconstructed, the To Whom It May Concern section a better opener, pushing the sturdier Alice Mercy to close a four-song set. A less bombastic version of the latter, I am uncertain whether it works better or worse, but his voice still seems pitched too high. Sandwiched between them is Shadows Cross My Wall, not broadly dissimilar to the studio version, and a song, On A Ship To Nowhere, not on the album. Flute, piano and acoustic guitar make it a weaker version of the songs that did, however good, and it is, is Dobson’s flute. Less good is the jabber of the DJ. Is it Pete Drummond or Alan Black, my memory fading, but he sounds all a bit sub-Fluff Freeman, and it intrudes on the enjoyment.

The four songs for Peel fare better, again opening with To Whom It May Concern, sounding a little more confident this time, perhaps courtesy a good lunch. The same is true for Shadows Cross My Wall and On A Ship To Nowhere, each extended and played with a little, Pete Wingfield now making himself more obvious in the arrangements. With no natter from the DJ, it is a much better performance and closes on a cracking High Tide, High Water, looser than on record. OK, Anderson is in hoarse and holler register, but it fits well the frenetic guitar frenzy, his own, that fills the middle. Wingfield clatters all over the piano keys and Dines cheesecuts his organ as a foundation. A fitting way to end this well put together package, ending with a smile on the face of the nodding-headed listener.

This is a welcome set from Cherry Red, benefiting from the smaller size , for them, of the package. With just the one disc, no chance of overload, not that Miller’s solo output contained much more; it was 27 years until any follow-up would come. A decent essay, from Steve Pilkington, is included within the booklet, even if his maths is wrong. I can’t help but think Miller Anderson coulda/shoulda been bigger and better known. He had the pipes and had the licks, if maybe not quite enough individual identity. He somehow deserved better than to end up earning his crust as the extra guitar in Marc Bolan’s last iteration of T.Rex.

Here’s a much later High Tide, High Water to bring a smile to your face, and to appreciate he is still alive and still playing.

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