It's not often that you hear the name Roger Miller used in connection with a jazz recording. Come to think of it, it's rare that you hear the name Roger Miller used in connection with much at all anymore. That is until now. The Susie Arioli band has a new Cd entitled Learn to Smile Again. It is a celebration of Miller and his largely overlooked catalog of music. Six out of the eleven tracks on Learn to Smile Again are Miller songs and each is done in a very spare manner, eliminating the fluff and getting to the heart and soul of the song.
Miller is in fine company on this disk sharing credit with Jimmy Webb and Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz along with Naomi Miller. Webb is represented with "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" the major hit for country star Glen Campbell, and Dietz and Schwartz contribute "By Myself" along with Naomi Neville's "Ruler of My Heart." Guitarist Jordan Officer, whose elegant and refined playing, is a perfect compliment to Arioli's smoky vocals, also doubles as song writer on two tracks, "Night Flight" and "Leo's Blues."
This is not big band music. It is a tightly woven, finely tuned piece of work that delivers on an unspoken promise to the listener, and that promise is to deliver music at its most elemental level. It is the kind of music that everyone with a heart can identify with and relate to. It is not meant to be over the top, as it strives for and reaches a level that is instantly identifiable to every man and woman. The only way not to like this disk is to simply admit that you have no heart and that you have never loved and lost anyone in your life. If you don't fit the heartless category this is the disk for you.
The songs here are done in such a way that when you listen to them you feel as if you are the only one in the room. They are low key, but pack an emotional wallop that hits you where you live and breathe. A fine example of this is "Husbands and Wives." Written more than twenty years ago, it is as poignant today as it was when it was first recorded. Handled by Arioli, who delivers it with a world weariness tone to her voice, you can almost feel the heart break and pain come through the speakers.
There are no real up-tempo numbers on Learn to Smile Again, but that is really alright. These songs are a rare treat themselves, finely crafted and expertly delivered and emotionally intense. Learn to Smile Again is a wonderful trip to take and one that Miller would have been proud to have gone on. It is also one I highly recommend you take as well.