Blackland Farmer: The Complete Starday Recordings
Good-natured and unassuming, and possessing an easy, slightly raspy baritone voice that brought an everyman feel to everything he sang, Frankie Miller ought to be a household name in country circles, but he isn't, and his relative obscurity as the 21st century opens is as much a mystery as it is unforgivable. Although he recorded often, Miller's key years were with Don Pierce's Starday label out of Nashville in the late '50s and early '60s (roughly 1959 to 1963), the time period covered by this marvelous three-disc anthology from Bear Family Records. With the usual Bear Family precision, this set includes both sides of the 17 singles Miller released with Starday, his three solo LPs with the label, his complete gospel EP, his pre-Starday single from Cowtown Hoedown, several sides he recorded with United Artists in 1962 and with Pete Drake's Stop label in 1966, plus previously unissued tracks, demos, and live performances, making this package a bonanza for Miller fans and collectors. Miller's easygoing, unhurried style makes everything go down as natural as a feather, and that steadiness makes him seem like everyone's likable neighbor, whether he is flirting with honky tonk or edging around the margins of rockabilly, and it's impossible, if you give him a chance, not to like this guy. Miller's most striking recording, and his signature song, is his own "Blackland Farmer," a track he originally recorded in 1956 but which sat unreleased until 1959 when Starday took a chance on it. "Blackland Farmer," marked by its distinctive percussion track, which mimicked the sound of a horse walking on hard ground, consequently shot to the top of the country charts, and the sparse, folky arrangement and Miller's simple, sincere singing make it sound surprisingly fresh some 50 years later. Miller had a second Top Ten country hit in 1959 with the sturdy "Family Man," but that was to be his commercial peak and while he continued to put out quality work, country music seemed to pass him by, eventually relegating him to footnote status, a neglect that seems downright criminal. Hopefully this generous, comfortable, and detailed set will help address the situation and bring Miller the contemporary attention he deserves.