Marc Miner’s long and winding road to his release Smile When You’re Wasted pays off for both the songwriter and his listeners. We normally expect country music practitioners to hail from predictable locales such as the American South or, perhaps, the Midwest, but the Vienna, Austria based Miner upends such expectations. Born to an American father and German mother, rock music, particularly alt-rock, first stoked his aspirations of playing music professionally and songwriting. The rebellious spirit it birthed prompted Miner to leave home at sixteen years old and embark for a new future in America. Miner settled in the Southern United States and the region’s traditional music, especially outlaw country, captivated him in a new way and, I am sure, inspired many of the tracks included on this release.
“Warm Welcome” kicks things off in raucous fashion with its torrid guitar playing, but the track’s country heart remains audible throughout the entirety of the track. He isn’t breaking any sort of new lyrical ground with the words, but Miner’s writing is articulate and intelligent despite its everyday conversational diction. There’s a bit of the lascivious in the track that makes it an even more delightful listening experience. It’s a fantastic way to begin this album. “Border Town Bar” is another winner. The opener’s follow-up is a light travelogue of sorts celebrating transgressive behavior and should be a great live number for Miner and his collaborators. There’s some explicit lyrical content in Miner’s writing, but rest assured it’s far removed from something you might hear on a hardcore hip hop album, as an example. It embraces a much more traditional country sound than the rock-influenced “Warm Welcome” but nonetheless packs a considerable punch.
“Easy Street” underlines the album’s blues influences with the introduction of harmonica. It isn’t the first time we’ll hear this instrument during this collection and we could have stood to hear it more – Miner is more than proficient with the harp and his playing adds immeasurably to the performance. The headlong charge of “Whiskey & Weed” is punctuated by brief refrains taken at a much more deliberate tempo and the contrast makes for a dramatic listening experience. The explicit content heard during “Border Town Bar” continues during these two songs but, once again, it is reflective of the individual rather than striking me as gratuitous and intent on shocking listeners.
“Sweet Codeine” is one of the finest songs on Smile When You’re Wasted. It is a dark love song wrapped in deep melancholy. There’s a sharp contrast between the adoring lyrics and Miner’s heartbroken delivery. The significant detail he threads throughout the verses carries this song to higher level as well. It is brief and lacks even a hint of wasted motion. Miner speeds things up with the track “Nothing Good ‘Bout the Way I Live” and it’s a catalogue of personal excesses. Songs such as this owe an enormous debt to blues music, but this is straight ahead country and has a light touch.
This sort of material runs the danger of sounding one note; Miner avoids that however. Each of the album’s eleven cuts, though some aren’t as successful as others, has an identity all their own that separates them from the pack. Smile When You’re Wasted proves pouring old wine into new bottles remains viable in 2020.