Chris Mills’ third full-length, may explain why he has found greater commercial success in the U.K. than the U.S.: The cross-pond pop, rock, folk, and soul of the 1960s and ’70s echoes throughout. You’ll hear Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and Ray Davies, as well as the good Saints Nick (Drake and Lowe).
On The Silver Line, Mills mostly forsakes formula, opting for his recognizable raw rock sound only in “Floorboards” and “Sleeptalking”. Instead, though the recordings of these nine originals and one cover (Hawksley Workman’s swooning “Don’t Be Crushed”) are built around guitar and voice — and in fact Mills sings with more confidence, nuance and depth than ever before — other instruments define the album’s sound. The melody of “Suicide Note” is carried by piano and accented with Memphis soul horns. “Dry Eye” is a richly arranged acoustic pop tune with organ, mandolin and ringing 12-string guitar.
And in “Lullaby”, a neatly woven web of mando, banjo, plucked violin and subtle percussion somehow sounds both majestic and minimalist. Mills couldn’t have accomplished this without a lot of help from his friends, among them producer Brian Deck, bassist Ryan Hembrey and drummer Gerald Dowd, plus a raft of players from Chicago’s indie-rock, roots and improv scenes.
Together they’ve created an elegant, ambitious and mature rock record never burdened by an ounce of the pretension those weighty words suggest. The Silver Line is a thoroughly confident declaration of independence from an artist finally, fully realizing his remarkable talents as a singer, songwriter and performer.