Rhett Miller The Believer

Best known as the front-man for Dallas alt-country mavericks Old 97’s, Rhett Miller’s 2002 solo debut The Instigator left little doubt as to the source of that band’s increasing obsession with power pop. Four years and a couple of Old 97’s releases later, the dapper Mr. Miller is back with another solo offering packed with smart-as-a-whip songcraft. Joined again by pop savant and Instigator collaborator Jon Brion, Miller has once more put together an enviable collection of quality tunes, with sonic heft provided by veteran producer George Drakoulias (the Black Crowes, Tom Petty). Originally intended as a "punk rock Ziggy Stardust,” The Believer is instead an appealing tour around Miller’s apparently impeccable influences — from the epic piano and string-filled art pomp of "Meteor Shower” to the Byrds-esque "Help Me, Suzanne,” which comes complete with sublime harmonies. There’s also a jaunty waltz ("Brand New Day”) and a lovely country ballad duet with Rachel Yamagata ("Fireflies”) in Miller’s formidable bag of musical tricks, while the glam rock strut of "Ain’t That Strange” comes closest to Miller’s own final evaluation of the album as "George Gershwin does T. Rex’s The Slider.” Eclectic, engaging and uniformly excellent. (Verve)