Dee Miller Band – Leopard Print Dress
10 songs/ 54 minutes
Regional Blues bands are truly keeping our beloved music alive and well. Unique, highly skilled professional Blues men and women play all over the world in relatively small catchment areas maintaining enthusiastic audiences. These audiences then support national and international touring acts and help fuel the larger Blues industry. This is why the annual International Blues Challenge (IBC) is so important; highlighting these regional acts and giving them an international stage to develop their careers. The Dee Miller Band, Minnesota Blues Society’s 2019 representative, is a perfect example of how talented regional bands can be. Their newest self released album Leopard Print Dress is a hard hitting R&B inflected Blues record that bumps and grinds the listener right into a sweaty Twin City bar.
Dee Miller is known as “The Duchess of the Blues.” A Minnesota Blues legend with a long professional career under her belt, Miller sings with a husky Tina Turner style and has layers of emotion and attitude in her voice. Leopard print is apparently her brand. On the rock-shuffle title track she explains “nothing screams cougar like a little leopard print dress.” She is all attitude and hard work. Guitarist and co-lead singer/duet partner Craig Clark adds depth and variety. Clark is an impassioned Gospel singer who takes lead on a couple of songs and goes muscular toe-to toe with Dee on others. Craig’s guitar playing is sharp and on point throughout. He uses a saturated tightly distorted guitar sound for his leads, think Eddie Van Halen. This is a sound that rarely works well in the Blues, but here is a nice counterpoint to the organic locked in R&B of the rest of the band. The secret weapon is keyboardist Jesse Mueller. A hard working player, Mueller’s impressive chops are fluid but never overbearing. Eric Meyer on bass and Mike DuBois on drums lay down well oiled up-on-the-beat R&B bedrock for all their bandmates unique stylings.
This band burns brightest when in R&B mode. The rhythm section locks in and gallops ahead on Etta James’ “Strongest Weakness.” A soulful take of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” morphs into a Black Crows styled power ballad. This must be a showstopper with Miller and Clark trading tortured yelps. Clark’s lead on Jonny Taylor’s “Last Two Dollars” is pitch perfect. The band pushes the up beat and the monotone background vocals give this cover layers and depth. Studded by John Pinckaers on piano and Toby Marshall on Hammond organ, “Two Dollars” must slay live.
The band also swings, albeit a little muscularly. The original “Hot and Sweaty” and the horn flecked (courtesy of Steve Clarke and Kevin Nord) “Back In the Saddle” both swing with a straight ahead locked in flow. However, the on-the-beat rhythm aesthetic doesn’t allow enough swagger and grease for some of the more swampy Blues such as “Steppin’” and “I Sing the Blues.” These Hubert Sumlin indebted tracks require more variance and a little less precision.
Dee Miller Band push themselves on a cover of Tedeschi Trucks’ “Midnight In Harlem.” This song is lush with 6th and major 7th chords, chilled out jazzy substitutions not found in the other cuts. With organ help again from Toby Marshell, slide guitar from Dylan Salfer, harmonica from Steve “Boom Boom” Vonderharr and tambourine from John Wright, this track is deep and expansive. Dee Miller sings with less fireworks but no shortage of emotion, showing a tender side. This arrangement is hard for a bar band to sell to a Saturday night audience wanting to get down. This is the struggle of the regional Blues band: how to evolve your music. To balance meditative and emotional music with the need to keep asses shaking.
Dee Miller Band is a hard hitting R&B band that knows how to rock an audience. In their music you can hear the grind of working it on the local circuit. In that brand defining title track, Dee and company sing the chorus “leopard print dress, high heel shoes, paying my dues, belting out the Blues.” This defines the regional band: looking hot, being unique, finding your own sound and hammering it out the hard way.