Rant ‘N’ Roll: Jason Charles Miller

In 1939, Woody Guthrie wrote a song called “Pretty Boy Floyd,” where he sang, “As through the world I’ve rambled/I’ve seen lots of funny men/Some rob you with a six-gun/Some with a fountain pen.” Seventy-one years later, Jason Charles Miller has updated that sentiment against white collar crime in a gem of a song called “The Dotted Line” where he warns you to run away before signing your name on anything! It’s a song for our times, one that the singer wrote himself and sings in a believable, honest forthright baritone, etched with white soul and informed by a lifetime of listening to Kristofferson, Haggard and Cash… but also to Bad Company, Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac.

In an era when even the brilliant new Merle Haggard record (Working In Tennessee) cannot get played on country radio, along comes Miller (the lead singer of Godhead!) to bust down pre-existing genre conceptions. He basically asks that age-old musical question: “Is you is or is you ain’t country?” The title of his liberating 10-song manifesto is purposely ironic. It’s called Uncountry. It’s dramatic, cinematic in scope and semi-autobiographical. It’s also a keeper. Deep in lyrical life-lessons, it’s totally thought-provoking, and as satisfying as a shot of whiskey coursing down one’s throat to warm the innards. Miller’s on the Southern Rock side of country: Ornery, tough-as-nails and he looks the part.

The songs on Uncountry are stark vignettes of human frailties and the traps into which we all fall. They’re sung from a place way down within, a primal scream of inner strength. Miller’s serious about this shit: Hell, him doing half-confessional singer/songwriter stuff is akin to admitting to your biker friends that you like to knit. It takes courage. Who knew the lead singer of a metal band had such a sensitive side and could turn into Joni Mitchell so easily?

Well, not exactly.

Although he showed few signs of it in Godhead, his credits provide a clue. He joined Nate Dogg, Mya, Brian McNight, Papa Roach and others by writing “Forever In Our Hearts” for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami benefit. He remixed “Go That Far” for Bret Michaels. As an actor, he was in the zombie movie Day Of The Dead, as well as the SyFy Network’s Battle Planet. His voiceovers have been heard in over 50 animated series and video games. This is one dude who is not unemployed like the rest of us these days. Plus, he owns his own Hollywood-area recording studio. HBO has used his music for shows like Hung and True Blood. Even the WWE has used his “Hangman” for its Smackdown show. He has gold records on his wall for the music he contributed to such feature films as Queen Of The Damned and Punisher. With Godhead, he’s sold over a quarter of a million records and performed at Ozzfest, and on tours with Slipknot, Disturbed, Rammstein and Korn’s Jonathan Davis. Country-wise, he’s opened for Toby Keith, Eric Church, Gary Allan and Justin Moore. Clearly, he’s a man-in-demand.

But it’s all in the groooves and Uncountry provides a stunning example of a metal man gone Southern Rock and becoming, in the process, that much better. Written and recorded in Nashville, his studio band is all-star, populated by pickers from the studio bands of Hank Williams, Jr., Jamey Johnson, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, Big & Rich and Jason Aldean. Oh, and Tina Guo plays some cello. Compositionally speaking, Jason had the good sense to co-write most of these tracks with some high-powered Nashville heavyweights who have written for Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Chris Young.

So I guess the moral is next time you go see some metal band barking out orders of non-conformity, just know you might be seeing some future song-crafter with more on his mind than the mosh.