With an easygoing groove behind a rustic set of strings, there’s nothing cosmetically experimental about the surface appeal of “Everything but Modest,” but upon closer inspection, this outlaw country balladry is anything but conventional structurally. Like the other ten songs we find on the new record Smile When You’re Wasted from Marc Miner, there’s a certain rock n’ roll edginess sewn into the climb towards the chorus that immediately gives the track a little more oomph than many of its Nashville counterparts would with the same compositional foundations. In 2020, there’s no arguing whether or not the country music establishment is at the mercy of one of the most competitive generations we’ve seen in history, but Marc Miner delivers his performance unintimidated in this all-new LP, which serves as his first official full-length album.
Smile When You’re Wasted is a very melodic record from start to finish, and in songs like “Nothing Good Bout the Way I Live,” “Over,” “Border Town Bar” and strutting “Empty Bottle Blues,” it’s clear that nothing is more important to Miner than the preservation of a harmony. In every instance here, he’s detailing the music with an added dose of panache both behind the mic and in cadence with the other players in his band, and although the spotlight is always focused on his lyrical lashings, nothing ever sounds particularly lopsided or self-centered in the presentation. He’s playing off of the energy in the studio brilliantly in this album, which isn’t always the case for players recording their solo debut.
There’s an awesome flow to this tracklist that had my approval right out of the gate, but the diversity of the material here ultimately prevents anything from sounding predictable. “Warm Welcome” sets the melodic pace only to lead us straight into the exoticisms of “Easy Street,” the brawling “Whiskey & Weed,” “Last Words” and sweetly excessive “Sweet Codeine,” with Miner never skipping a beat or sounding out of his element along the way. You can tell he’s had a lot of experience as a songwriter unbound to any one specific genre over another; it just so happens that we’re finding him at a creative peak perfectly synchronized with the present trajectory of alternative country music in the United States and (especially in this situation) abroad.
I hadn’t heard of Marc Miner before I got ahold of Smile When You’re Wasted this autumn, but now that I’m aware of what this Vienna-based player is capable of conjuring up on his own, I’ll be looking forward to hearing what he does with this sound in the future. There aren’t a lot of country musicians coming out of his corner of the world, but defying borders as much as he does aesthetical boundaries, Miner gives us the kind of Americana-inspired performance in this record that a lot of stateside musicians have failed to produce in recent years. He has my respect, and once you take a peek at this LP, I think he’s going to have yours as well.