Lately I’ve been listening to Blake Mills’ second album, Heigh Ho (released September 2014), on heavy rotation.
Mills is a hot new guitar slinger, vocalist, songwriter and producer. He’s an “in demand” musician that has worked with a who’s who of popular artists. He’s toured with Jenny Lewis, Fiona Apple, Lucinda Williams and Jackson Browne. He’s recorded with Weezer and Kid Rock. He’s produced albums for Conor Oberst and Alabama Shakes. He’s also worked with Beck, Norah Jones and Band of Horses. And he’s only 28 years old!
Producer Rick Rubin holds him in high regard and was quoted saying “Blake’s musicality is limitless. He happens to be a breathtaking guitar player; but his real talent lies in what he chooses to play and how.”
I might make the same comment but with a slight twist. I think his real talent lies in what he chooses NOT to play.
Take, for instance, today’s SotW – “If I’m Unworthy.”
Mills and his bandmates – Don Was on bass and drummer Jim Keltner – approach this song with a minimalist arrangement. Less is more. It’s all the empty spaces they leave that make the music so compelling. But then, about 2:25 into the song, things get noisier with a fuzzy, reverb drenched guitar solo that builds into a George Harrison sounding slide solo, then abruptly stops.
In an article in Premier Guitar Mills explained “I wanted the basic tacks, those live performances, to have a lot of space in them, so sometimes we would whittle down and simplify, but there weren’t a lot of ‘parts’ to begin with.”
Eric Clapton heard the slide guitar part Mills contributed to Natalie Maines’ cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.”
He searched out the player and when he discovered it was Mills he invited him to play at his annual Crossroads benefit concert. Later, in a Rolling Stone interview with David Fricke, Clapton called Mills “the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.”
That’s a pretty high compliment.
Enjoy… until next week.
I’m glad you posted this. That song is crazy, and kind of catchy and expresses something coherent and ineffable, but it’s also pretty sketchy. This is true of much new music, music trying to find new ways into ideas and emotions, and I have a hard time with it sometimes. Because I prefer Motown, I think. Real songs, you might say.
If I’m Unworthy also expresses a pretty novel pop song thought, which is good. But why is a young guy playing with Don Was and Jim Keltner? So I’m a little suspicious there.
I love God Only Knows, as a song, and this version is fine. I’m glad to know it.