There isn’t a single track on Marc Miner’s Last Heroes that does not grab you. I’m quite taken with the album. He’s done an exemplary job of breathing new life into venerable musical styles such as classic country and blues without the songs sounding like empty pastiches. Miner, instead, hears continuing vitality and relevance in roots music. He doesn’t treat these forms as if they are pristine and unapproachable; nor does he apply an one size fits all template to his songs. There are similarities, without question, in some of the arrangements on Last Heroes, but never so much so that listeners will click stop or move on to the next track. These eleven songs demand and earn the full breadth of a listener’s attention.
I found the first song a little shocking, but not in a bad way. It’s a measure of how much Miner is willing to take chances with his listeners that he leads off with a song full of wholesale slaughter like “Sweet Revenge”. These aren’t likable characters he’s writing about. The man and woman in “Sweet Revenge” aren’t the sort of people you’d want to meet late at night and Miner depicts them in a grim fashion. The almost casual tone of the music, deep classic country vibes from first note to last, contrasts well with such a graphic tale.
The ”girl” in “Girl Gone Bad” isn’t someone you’d take to meet your mother. She’s a femme fatale who every man thinks they can handle but, inevitably, drags you into darkness. Longtime blues fans will pick up on intelligent callbacks to older songs buried in the track’s lyric, particularly its opening line, and the music doubles down on those influences without ever coming off as a rank, hollow copy. There’s a strong singer/songwriter vibe driving “Nicki & Bob”, both lyrically and musically, but the aforementioned country influences are never far from front and center. It’s another sharply observed and characterized tale from Miner’s seemingly bottomless well of such stories.
Last Heroes peaks in several places and one of its highest pinnacles comes with “Hero of Laredo”. The ironic title doesn’t give listeners much of a hint about the tale of woe and twisted ambition that unfolds once the song begins. The border-town feel of the song isn’t ever exaggerated but, instead, builds on well-turned nuances that drew me in from the outset. The presence of a pedal steel guitar is especially smart. “Warrior Princess” will find its mark with some listeners and miss with others as it turns in a different musical direction than the album’s other songs. It’s a good illustration of his diversity, however, and another great example of Miner’s gift for creating convincing characters.
“Bible & Rifle” is another example of that aforementioned diversity. I enjoy the way it hammers away at you without ever sounding too meat-headed for its own good. It looks to achieve a specific mood, raw and unfiltered rage, but fortunately rarely gets crassly obvious about it. It’s a high point for the album’s guitar attack, however. We have another turn of the album’s mood with “The World’s Fairytale” and the ending track “Cheer Me Up ‘Cause I’m Leaving”. The former is an issue-oriented tune with another strong arrangement, deeply felt vocals, and flashes of genuine poetry. The latter concludes Last Heroes with understated dark humor and an audible sense of melancholy that never drags listeners into outright despair. Marc Miner solidifies his position as one of the foremost Americana songwriters today with this release.