As frontman of the Dallas-based alterna-country outfit Old 97ís, Rhett Miller showed that there was room beneath 10-gallon hats for pop-star looks and Hollywood hooks. On his fine new solo debut, he does away with the C&W tendencies altogether, coming on like the freshly scrubbed West Coast troubadour the albumís glamor-shot sleeve suggests heís become. The new role fits him like a glove: his clever, poignant love songs balance the sad-sack heartache of an Elliott Smith with the trenchant observations of a Randy Newman, and his detailed folk pop never wants for the occasional blast of power-pop pep. In other words, heís the kind of guy youíd dump just to let him persuade you to take him back.
As heís done with efforts by Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright, producer Jon Brion applies a nifty studio sheen to Millerís songs: a gauzy organ wash on " World Inside the World, " bouncy vibes on " Hover, " rippling percussion and dense harmony vocals on the closing " Terrible Vision. " But Miller writes his own check on The Instigator; barring any backlash from No Depression heads hungry for twang, he can expect to find a cozy place among the new class of well-heeled singer-songwriters.
(Rhett Miller headlines the Paradise next Friday, November 15. Call 617-423-NEXT.)