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On Second Listen: Amy Millan – Masters of the Burial

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Amy Millan is the latest in a line of indie darlings to explore their more country/folk side in the form of a solo side career. Just like Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) and Maria Taylor (of Azure Ray), Millan took a break from being a main figure in her band Stars, and her seldom guest spots with Broken Social Scene, to record her latest, Masters of the Burial. This is not her first time going solo, however. Back in 2006, she hit us with Honey From the Tombs. This new album is more or less a continuation of what she accomplished there. If you’ve heard Honey…, you pretty much know what you’re getting with this album: 11 soft and sweet twangy songs that showcase Millan’s whispery voice.

Millan sticks to what she knows here. Ten of the album’s 11 songs are quiet, reflective, and relaxed. She does break out of her shell, as is the case on her cover of Jenny Whiteley’s “Day to Day”, where her voice remains the same, leaving the country sounds to be stripped away and replaced by a simple and steady beat. It’s a good track, but it’s an anomaly. The rest of the album is all twang, and while all of the songs are supremely pretty, they don’t do much to differentiate themselves from one another. Her voice is the obvious highlight here, though she’s backed by a team of more than competent musicians, including Broken Social Scene member Evan Cranley. The subdued banjos and strings create a great outlet for Millan’s unique voice.

Four of the album’s 11 songs are covers. Most of them are somewhat obscure song choices (she covers Weeping Tile, Jenny Whiteley, and Richard Hawley), but she does cover Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. She fleshes out the original by expanding it from a simple acoustic guitar song into a full country song, complete with banjos and violins. While this cover might get her the most attention by people who would otherwise not know who she was, her original songs overshadow the covers. Her lyrics remain personal and close to her heart, but they’ve grown more mature since her days with Stars. Her ability to play off other vocalists was a strong point in her other bands that is missing here, but for those who enjoy her voice in particular, this album is well worth a listen.

Overall, Masters of the Burial is warm and pretty, and benefits from some very fine production, but its lack of risks keeps it from being great. None of the songs stray too far from the same formula. It’s a nice listen, but it likely won’t win over any new fans. However, fans of Millan from her other bands, or her first solo album, just looking for more of her voice should be perfectly content here.

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