Marc Miner’s tough-minded brand of Americana has deep country music roots, but there’s ample room for blues and rock as well. Particularly blues. There’s scorching blues guitar scattered throughout the eleven songs of his new album Last Heroes without ever pulling the collection entirely in that direction. Instead, Miner’s music and songwriting chops incorporate blues as an added adornment that further polishes already excellent material. It provides plenty of bite, as well, to already rugged countrified arrangements.
His vocals deserve plenty of praise. Miner never sings two songs in a row the same way. There’s surprising flexibility in his vocal approach that allows him to inhabit a multitude of characters and scenarios. The album’s first outing “Sweet Revenge” finds Miner at a distance narrating the tale of two doomed criminal-minded lovers and their eventual implosion. It’s an interesting feature of his work that he never explicitly pronounces judgment on his subjects but, instead, leaves that for listeners to decide. The lyrics inhabit a dusty yet hot world, decidedly Southwestern in flavor, and he writes the words for these songs in such a way that there’s no wasted motion.
“Nicki & Bob” is one of Last Heroes’ peak moments. The sinewy, muscular guitar playing present throughout the song plays off nicely against Miner’s singing and provides a further counterpoint for Miner’s story of two small-town “losers”. The musical highlights arrive during the second half of the song and put a crowning touch on the performance. “Hero of Laredo” has a stripped-down musical thrust with harmonica making key contributions along the way. It’s largely built around acoustic instrumentation which allows listeners to focus more on arguably the album’s finest lyrics.
Another highlight of the album comes with the later song “Heavy Bones”. Much of the attraction to this song will lie in its hard-hitting chorus but make no mistake, it’s a complete work. It’s just the way that Miner brings everything to a full boil during the song’s refrain that helps those moments stand out. “Bible & Rifle” is another song that’s destined to be a great concert piece. The social consciousness fueling his songwriting is never overbearing, particularly as he never minces words throughout the track and the musical content dovetails so seamlessly into the subject.
The easy rock stride of “The World’s Fairytale” counterbalances the dark take on the modern world that Miner pushes throughout the lyrics. The song’s guitar playing puts its melodic merits front and center for listeners. He ends the album with the battered but still standing mood of a survivor thanks to the song “Cheer Me Up ‘Cause I’m Leaving”. There’s a bit of cavalier flaunting of misfortune in the song’s words that Miner sinks his teeth deep into that will likely embed the song in the listener’s memory. Marc Miner’s Last Heroes is full of riches, and you can’t consider any of its eleven songs a miss. You get the feeling hearing these songs that life has helped compose them and that Miner’s willingness to endure all manner of experiences will continue empowering his art for years to come.