I’m not sure why singer/songwriter Gregg McMillan receives next to no critical attention. He’s been on the scene–in various musical guises–since the 1970s, and in a town that has produced some true greats and which has as analogue Athens, Georgia, you might expect that the hardworking and talented McMillan would have received a bit more commercial notice.
He hasn’t, or he hasn’t since he was in a band called the Dixie Desperados, a Southern rock outfit dating back thirty years that opened for the headliners of the day and then got buried in local musical lore, underneath musicians like Tom Petty, Bernie Leadon, and Bo Diddley. Since then, McMillan has spent a decade in Nashville, playing around the alt-country scene, returned to Florida to play the folk circuit. and moved to Georgia, a place and a state of mind he celebrates in the title of his second solo CD, “Justice of the Peach.” This minor peripeteia has landed McMillan in a comfortable place where he works with unembroidered musical textures to create a CD whose big selling point is its directness.
The straightforwardness in both lyric and instrumentation suits McMillan’s slightly bourbon-rasped vocals, which toughen the opening cut “Any Way I Can” and go plaintive on “Love Game.”
“Justice of the Peach” is a primarily acoustic album whose best cut, “Where Were You When I Wrecked My Car” is also its simplest. Deceptively innocent instrumentation–essentially just McMillan’s guitar in an easy motif with a graceful mandolin ornamentation–belies a very clever lyric. It’s a poetic love song rear-ended by a romance as unlucky as a car crash.
The ten cuts on the album (and a bonus eleventh) are all relatively low-key and are delivered in an introspective and economical style. The closest to McMillan’s roots as a Southern rocker is “Don’t Let the Rain Come In, ” a song McMillan conceived out of a simple maternal memory.
Where more fleshed out instrumentation is added, it doesn’t intrude so much as it assimilates and gives presence. The addition of pedal steel (by the gifted Mike Collins) takes the dramatic lyrics of “Justice Moon” into a darkly lonesome place. Collins also adds texture to three other cuts: “Without You,” “It Was You,” and “Love Game” (which was co-written with McMillan’s ex-wife).
Thematically, “Justice of the Peach” has the dichotomies of love as its primary focus. Where you have love, you have loss; McMillan seems to celebrate this centrality of country and folk music as much as he celebrates his lyrically professed difficulty with relationships. In “Love Game,” he’s eager and involved, but with an insecure woman whose world is “Broadway and Park Place” while his “seemed to never, ever, ever pass go.” I hate to think of this last as a metaphor for McMillan’s career. This sweet, moody, and earnest CD should open up new horizons for McMillan on the festival circuit and there are at least two cuts that smart money might bet on being re-recorded by Nashville types who have had better luck than has McMillan in the game of musical chairs.
I’d have liked a strong rocker on this album, but take this as a very subjective quibble; the Southern rock legacy in which McMillan was formerly immersed is still very much in evidence in his vocals. This suggests that McMillan could rip through a barroom rocker even as “Justice of the Peach” on the whole is a quietly evocative narrative of a tender, sometimes ailing heart.
“Justice of the Peach” was produced by Gregg McMillan in conjunction with Derron Nuhfer and Jeff Sims.
You can buy the CD on Gregg McMillan’s Web site: www.greggmcmillan.com