I am a big fan of Marc Miner’s songs about salty men and women living on the farthest margins of the modern world. They inhabit a terrain where haphazard fate can snuff our individual lives in a second and each new day promises nothing. He writes songs full of sweat and struggles rather than mollycoddled visions, but they are never hopeless. The very fact they exist as well testifies to endurance and ultimately provides life-affirming lessons for listeners. Even in the darkest of moments, we never stop gazing toward the stars.
His new collection Last Heroes overflows with such sentiments. A melancholic edge cuts through some of the songs, but there’s a swirl of emotions present in these tracks. Anger, regret, lust, sadness, and condemnation share space throughout the course of these eleven songs. The first track “Sweet Revenge”, however, kicks things off in a chaotic blast of rage. The juxtaposition of its relatively sedate instrumental backing with the cold-blooded murder of its lyrics makes for an invigorating listen. No one escapes retribution in this song.
The guitar riff powering the main part of “Girl Gone Bad” reminds me of Savoy Brown’s 70’s classic “Street Corner Talking”. It’s an appropriate memory for one of the album’s bluesier tracks and Miner likewise isn’t bashful about layering the cut with additional blues references. It culminates with tremendous physical energy in all the right places and Miner’s obviously having a great time with the song’s bawdy lyrics. His character-driven lyrics about two misfits and the bond they share make “Nicki & Bob” one of the album’s most memorable performances. The tempered sway of the arrangement relies on some particularly tasty guitar parts I won’t soon forget.
“Hero of Laredo” sticks with me too. Miner really shines with this extended tale about the hard-scrabble rise and fall of a small-time criminal who makes an ill-fated lunge for the big time. The haunted sonic territory that the musicians create is especially right for this work. Miner excels as well with the way his voice inhabits the story and never over-exaggerates his presence. He hits another high point with the emphatic “Bible & Rifle”. The drum and guitar muscle flexed in this song, particularly the former, underlines already powerful lyrics and Miner’s singing burns with intense passion. He’s fully committed to the song’s message and doesn’t back off an inch during the song.
“The World’s Fairytale” spotlights one of the album’s most intelligent lyrics and I find the poetic touches laden throughout the song to be very effective. He’s tailored them to the arrangement with great skill as well. Miner clearly knows he has something special with this song and the care he takes with his vocals makes it one of the best tracks on Last Heroes. “Cheer Me Up ‘Cause I’m Leaving” closes things out with a bit of a wink for listeners, there’s some humor here, but there’s plenty of pathos as well. It elicits a final first-class vocal from Miner that ends the collection on a near-perfect note. Last Heroes has something for everyone who enjoys roots music and never strikes a false chord.