Miles of Wire | Can You Feel It? (self-released)

While I’m not sure how much of Maurice’s material is autobiographical, when he roars the hook of “Frustrating Mess,” I feel the rage boiling up from beneath each syllable.

 

Maybe I’m just prejudiced. But the moment I hear another whiskey-scarred voice singing about the bottle, and marital difficulties, and getting laid backstage…well, I recoil just a bit. Raphael Maurice of Miles of Wire is another such voice, but, as he implores on his band’s sophomore album, “take me as I am.” I’ll do my best, sir. Although this St. Louis group’s breed of hard-rocking Americana might not be my favorite musical subgenre, they succeed on their own terms, which should be far more important to fans than this outsider’s opinion.

The negatives first: Maurice is treading well-worn lyrical ground here, which is no crime in and of itself. Although he leans heavily on references to alcohol abuse—and routinely follows each of these with a “she-done-me-wrong” chaser—it’s important to note that these themes are enduring in rock music for a reason. They still resonate with a great number of listeners. But if a singer makes these overly familiar topics his stock and trade, he’d best find an interesting way of expressing them. It’s a thin line between being affectingly direct in one’s lyrics and just plain generic, and Maurice unfortunately falls on the latter side too often. Take “Catholic Boys,” which at nearly seven minutes should serve as the album’s emotional centerpiece. However, irksome couplets that pair “take me to court” with “child support” and “year” with “too much beer” hopelessly mar a story that could have sounded a lot more interesting.

Still, to continue to harp on the frontman, Maurice really does have a great voice for these songs. His hoarse drawl lends a crucial credibility to his compositions. While I’m not sure how much of Maurice’s material is autobiographical, when he roars the hook of “Frustrating Mess,” I feel the rage boiling up from beneath each syllable.

According to Miles of Wire’s Web site, Maurice presented his bandmates with skeletal acoustic compositions, and the group developed them from there. That might explain why the rest of the band rarely intrudes upon Maurice’s spotlight. The rhythm section of Randall Eickmeyer (bass) and Adam Anglin (drums) provides solid support, but never takes on a standout role in any of the arrangements. Guitarist Shawn T. Bell, meanwhile, contributes a selection of tones sympathetic to Maurice’s lyrics. He pulls out a spiky riff for the barnstorming pop of “Funny Feeling,” sparks a brief diversion into light reggae on “Belleville, IL,” and adds some gently rolling waves to wash over “What the Ocean Said.”

But in the end, these instrumental touches are all mere ornamentations for the heart of the songs, which ultimately brings us back to Maurice. Miles of Wire’s lead singer still seems to be working out his own lyrical voice, at times hiding behind trite expressions or goofy throwaway numbers like “Big Dick Rocker.” When he focuses his abilities, he produces ragged gems like “I Am a Cigarette,” which delivers a poignant tale of a man inheriting his grandfather’s legacy of failure. The song is not overly complex in its construction, nor does it need to be. When Maurice’s voice cracks over the song’s title as the track climaxes, that’s all that needs to be said. It’s intensely personal, emotionally raw moments like this that the band should aim for on future releases.

 


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