When:September 30, 2023
Time:7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Where:eTOWN HALL / 1535 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO 80302
Cost:$28+ Taxes & Fees

Doors: 6 PM

Show: 7 PM


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All Ages Welcome

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John R. Miller

John R Miller is a true hyphenate artist: singer-songwriter-picker. Every song on his thrilling debut solo album, Depreciated, is lush with intricate wordplay and haunting imagery, as well as being backed by a band that is on fire. One of his biggest long-time fans is roots music favorite Tyler Childers, who says he's "a well-travelled wordsmith mapping out the world he's seen, three chords at a time." Miller is somehow able to transport us to a shadowy honkytonk and get existential all in the same line with his tightly written compositions. Miller's own guitar-playing is on fine display here along with vocals that evoke the white-waters of the Potomac River rumbling below the high ridges of his native Shenandoah Valley. Depreciated is a collection of eleven gems that take us to his homeplace even while exploring the way we can't go home again, no matter how much we might ache for it. On the album, Miller says he was eager to combine elements of country, folk, blues, and rock to make his own sound. Recently lost heroes like Prine, Walker, and Shaver served as guideposts for the songcrafting but Miller has completely achieved his own sound. The album is almost novelistic in its journey, not only to the complicated relationship Miller has with the Shenandoah Valley but also into the mind of someone going through transitions. "I wrote most of these songs after finding myself single and without a band for the first time in a long while," Miller says. "I stumbled to Nashville and started to figure things out, so a lot of these have the feel of closing a chapter." Miller grew up in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia near the Potomac River. "There are three or four little towns I know well that make up the region," he says, name-checking places like Martinsburg, Shepherdstown, Hedgesville, and Keyes Gap. "It's a haunted place. In some ways it's frozen in time. So much old stuff has lingered there, and its history is still very present." As much as Miller loves where he's from, he's always had a complicated relationship with home and never could figure out what to do with himself there. "I just wanted to make music, and there's no real infrastructure for that there. We had to travel to play regularly and as teenagers most of our gigs were spent playing in old church halls or Ruritan Clubs." He was raised "kinda sorta Catholic" and although he gave up on that as a teenager, he says "it follows me everywhere, still." His family was not musical -- his father worked odd jobs and was a paramedic before Miller was born, while his mother was a nurse -- but he was drawn to music at an early age, which was essential to him since he says school was "an exercise in patience" for him. "Music was the first thing to turn my brain on. I'd sit by the stereo for hours with a blank audio cassette waiting to record songs I liked," he says. "I was into a lot of whatever was on the radio until I was in middle school and started finding out about punk music, which is what I gravitated toward and tried to play through high school." Not long after a short and aimless attempt at college, I was introduced to old time and traditional fiddle music, particularly around West Virginia, and my whole musical world started to open up." Around the same time he discovered John Prine and says the music of Steve Earle sent him "down a rabbit hole." From there he found the 1970s Texas gods like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, and Blaze Foley, the swamp pop of Bobby Charles, and the Tulsa Sound of J.J. Cale, who is probably his biggest influence. As much as the music buoyed him, it also took its toll. "I always prioritized being a touring musician above everything, and my attempts at relationships suffered for it," he says. Miller was also often fighting depression and watching many of his friends "go off the rails on occasion." He says that for a long period he did a lot of self-medicating. "I used to go about it by drinking vodka from morning to night for months on end," he says. "I shouldn't have made it this far. I'm lucky, I think." Ultimately, the music won out and Depreciated is the hard-won result of years of self-education provided by life experiences that included arrests, a drunken knife-throwing incident, relationships both lost and long-term, and learning from the best of the singer-songwriters by listening. For the creation of the album Miller joined forces with two producers who shared his vision for a country-blues infused record: multiple Grammy nominee Justin Francis, who has worked with everyone from Leon Bridges to Kacey Musgraves, and Adam Meisterhans, a renowned guitarist whom Miller has known since their days as roustabout musicians in West Virginia. They recorded Depreciated in the legendary Studio A of Sound Emporium in Nashville. Miller says the studio's "killer gear and lived-in feeling" enhanced the sound but most importantly it provided plenty of space for the band to be together. "It's important to me to have a relationship with the people I'm working with," Miller says. The crew is a well-oiled machine that is given the opportunity to shine throughout the album: Meisterhans adding guitar along with Miller, Francis bringing in congas and Wurlitzer, Chloe Edmonstone offering a plaintive fiddle, John Looney on mandolin, Jonathan Beam providing bass, Russ Pahl's shimmery pedal steel, John Clay on drums, and Robbie Crowell playing the Wurlie and Hammond B3. We're driven into Miller's world by steady drums, a thudding bass, and steering electric guitar in "Lookin' Over My Shoulder," a song that perfectly captures going back to your old haunts after a breakup. Right away the many layers -- sonic and thematic -- are revealed as we continue on into "Borrowed Time," a song that feels like a smoky bar-room but is also Miller at his most profound, pondering about "listening to that eternal engine whine." Its ghostly electric guitar and percussion begs for two-steppers. More variety kicks in with "Faustina," a lovely prayer to the most recent saint that shows Miller in seeker mode. "Shenandoah Shakedown" is a four-minute epic with its river that "speaks in tongues" and a "sky frozen black" but also intimate in its exploration of a relationship crumbling. "Coming Down" is perhaps the thematic heart of the album, asking "Don't you wish you could go back home?" and exploring that question in elegiac tones with stand-out harmonies between Miller and Edmonstone. The breakup is further explored in the deceptively lively "Old Dance Floor," which is answered in the keep-your-head-up anthem of "Motor's Fried" before the intricate character study of a woman who "grew up too fast in the moonlight" in "Back and Forth," which features memorable turns on the fiddle and mandolin. There's the calming instrumental track "What's Left of the Valley" that is an elegy for a region, an ode to searching for used cars called "Half Ton Van," and finally, the melodic mastery of "Fire Dancer," which may be the most complex and psychedelically-influenced track on the album that allows the album to land on a place of self-acceptance, with a narrator ready to go forward stronger and wiser. The eleven songs, all penned by Miller, provide an album that stands strong as an entity but also provides tight singles that announce a major new voice. Miller possesses a rich voice, a flair for leading a band, and perhaps most of all, a startling ability for songwriting that results in Depreciated being an album that will have widespread appeal. Miller has achieved that most difficult yet most important thing: presenting the universal in the specific, paying attention to the cool beneath the pines along the rivers of the Shenandoah Valley while also pulling the camera back to reveal the longings that unite us all. -- Silas House

Raye Zaragoza

Growing up as a woman, you’re constantly told that your wedding will be the happiest day of your life. It’s the ultimate marker of your youth and allure, the moment you’ve achieved stability and have proven that - thank god - you’re desirable to a man. But as many of us know, if it’s lasting happiness, fulfillment, and understanding that you really want, it’s usually wiser to bet on yourself. Raye Zaragoza’s Hold That Spirit is an album rooted in this realization. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter has always made political folk music that is informed by her identity as a woman of mixed Indigenous, Asian and Latina heritage. She gained recognition in 2016 with “In The River,” which was written to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. When she performed a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR, she spoke and sang about making live music more economically accessible. And, she currently writes the music for Netflix's Spirit Rangers, a show featuring an all Native American writers room and cast. As she approached 30 last year, Zaragoza started thinking specifically about the expectations placed on women as they age: what they should have achieved in their careers, the nuclear families they are expected to pursue and nurture, the way that beauty standards and ageism collude to make it more and more difficult to be seen. 29 was also the year Zaragoza got engaged and, soon after,, ended her relationship. After the engagement ended, she used what would have been her wedding budget to fund part of the production of her new album. As much as it was a practical decision, it was also one rife with symbolism: Zaragoza was investing in herself. There’s an enduring sense of agency to these songs, which pull from buoyant indie pop like Japanese Breakfast and contemplative folk like Joni Mitchell. On tracks like the soaring pop opener “Joy Revolution,” which was a collaboration with fellow LA-based activist-artist MILCK, Zaragoza acknowledges that a big part of achieving happiness is choosing to be happy rather than waiting for your life to be perfect or feeling like you have to earn comfort and ease. She uses this album to claim joy that has always rightfully been hers and to actively mold herself into her own role model. As she says on galloping country track “Sweetheart,” “I don’t want to be a woman, crying on the floor at night. I don’t want to keep on searching for the day I feel alright.” A feminist undercurrent unifies these songs. Meditative folk ballad “Strong Woman” was written as a commission for a friend’s daughter, but also more broadly celebrates a world led and built by women. “Not A Monster” candidly addresses Zaragoza’s eating disorder. And “Garden” grapples with all the unfair expectations placed on women as they age. Zaragoza also worked with exclusively female collaborators on the project, a rarity in an industry where less than 5% of production/engineering credits go to women. She feels that working with women allowed her the emotional safety to fully process the pain of her breakup and to make honest art about her life. “It’s easy for me to be vulnerable with a female collaborator even the first time I meet her,” she says. “A lot of these sessions were 3 hours of us talking and therapizing before we started writing. This album is so much about what it feels like to be a woman leaving the “prime of your 20s” and processing what it means to get older, which is something which men don’t experience in the same way.” She also felt like the songwriting process was communal, less a process of telling her specific story than one of finding ways to connect with her collaborators and share stories that resonated with all of them. For example, she worked with fellow songwriter of Indigenous heritage Hayley McLean on “Still Here,” a track about owning her culture as a woman of Akimel O'otham descent and acknowledging how Indigenous people exist in all facets of society. “The Native community in LA has been a huge part of my life since I moved here at 14,” she says. “Indigenous artists aren’t played on the radio or given space in mainstream publications enough, so I do what I can to be as proud as I can and pave the way for other artists too.” She hopes the sense of community she fostered while writing these songs shines through and, in turn, helps listeners feel less alone. Hold That Spirit is a nuanced, complicated album because it is rooted in Zaragoza’s specific hardships, from her anxiety to her fraught relationship with work to her heartbreak, but it also looks outward and finds solace in people who have a shared understanding of those experiences. By leaning on those who make her feel seen and supported as she ventured into the world alone, she was able to remain defiantly optimistic, and inspire us all to do the same, too.

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