March 2006

Bill Staines - The Second Million Miles
Red House Records RHR CD 189
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***

Veteran singer-songwriter Bill Staines is always pleasing to the ear, with a clear, natural singing voice, full arrangements, and catchy melodies. The 17 tracks of The Second Million Miles come from six albums Staines released on Red House Records between 1989 and 2004. In the liner notes, Staines says he "convey[s] [his] heart's feelings to others," and he thanks his record company for "the freedom to express [him]self in the music world."

That might help to explain why Staines' lyrics are less compelling than the music to which he puts them. Feelings are merely personal -- not moral, social, or political - but Staines sings of friends, children, highways, hearts and rivers with anthem- and hymn-like solemnity, without providing words to justify such treatment. Irony, paradox, and humor usually reveal more truth beneath the surface of things. Friends and kids disappoint, highways kill, hearts betray, rivers stink -- that’s why they’re interesting.

A warm, comforting, acoustic blanket of sound characterizes Staines’ material. The similarities of Staines’s songs give the impression the entire collection could have been recorded in a month of sessions, not over many years. Guitarist Guy Van Duser, multi-instrumentalist Brian Wood, and bassists Mike Walsh and Randy Glines are skilled musicians whose longtime work with Staines lends unity to the album.