For a man who is just now making his solo debut, it would be an understatement of immense proportions to say that Robert Miller doesn’t already have a gold-standard reputation in indie fusion circles. Miller’s first record away from the Project Grand Slam moniker, Summer of Love, builds on that reputation by expanding on the funk, jazz, rock and pop themes of his previous releases in a uniquely singular capacity simply not possible in the collaborative environment fostered by his role in PGS. Summer of Love is everything its name would have us hope it would be, but in some ways feels like just a sampling of what this artist can do on his own.
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There’s a familiar swing for PGS fans in “The Night Was a Mystery,” “Bourbon Street” and “New Life (Annie’s Song),” but the overall feel of this record is a heck of a lot funkier than anything that the group has put out up until this point in history. The snap-back of the strings in particular allows for grooves to take center stage in “Bip Bop” and “Another One Like You,” and though his lyrics convey a lot of emotion in numerous instances here, Miller’s bass play often serves as the chief provocateur of passion in the grander scheme of things.
I picked up on some avant-jazz influences in “Aches and Pains,” “Walking in the Corner” and “Now and Always” that are a lot more indulgent than anything I expected to hear in this solo LP, but it’s a look that I think this player wears exceptionally well just the same. Perhaps it’s my own ignorance as a critic and longtime Project Grand Slam supporter that I wouldn’t anticipate a lot of the left-field faceting in the compositional approach Miller is taking to a lot of the material in Summer of Love, but regardless, it made my first sit-down with the tracklist all the more exciting.
Though he hasn’t been as lauded for singing as he has his leadership and songwriting skills, Robert Miller’s colorful croon in this album is warm and intimate in tone every time we hear it. “Heaven” and “Another One Like You” are particularly compelling from a vocal perspective, and while he tends to rely on a softer sway than his PGS counterparts have employed prior to now – and even goes so far as to bury his verses in the mix on a few occasions – it works for the style of this content perfectly well.
I’ve been keeping up with the collective works of this artist for years now, and while he’s got a lot of competition in and outside of the American underground at the moment, his is among the few solo debuts that I would regard as premium listening in 2020. Summer of Love is as good as any Project Grand Slam-branded disc out there, and if it’s the new standard for Robert Miller moving into the future, there should be plenty more hits from his camp to come.