Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts

Rockford, IL-based Miles Nielsen has spent nearly a decade enthralling audiences with music that draws force from the prime years of Western-influenced rock music and classic ‘60s soul. Claiming influences as diverse as Otis Redding’s classic soul and Jellyfish’s cult power pop recordings, Nielsen has thus far released two albums – his debut in 2009 as a solo artist, and then his sophomore album in 2012 as Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts – to critical acclaim and an ever-growing fanbase. The Rusted Hearts’ hot streak will continue this year with their upcoming third LP, Heavy Metal.

Heavy Metal blends the country-esque drawl and growling guitars of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with the subtly sensual undercurrent of Ray Charles. Vocal harmonies present throughout the album recall Fleetwood Mac as strongly as they bring to mind the very first doo wop groups. But despite The Rusted Hearts’ readily apparent influences, the result of these combined roots is a singular sound that readily distinguishes the band from its peers.

Throughout Heavy Metal, The Rusted Hearts combine their sonic forebears into a style that’s entirely theirs, resulting in songs that boast layers upon layers of complexity under their irresistible surfaces. Underneath the gorgeous guitar lines and vocal harmonies outlining this album, brilliantly intertwined riffs and melodies empower The Rusted Hearts with a supremely resonant emotive force. Nielsen employs his songwriting genius to weave in instruments beyond the traditional rock band setup at exactly the right moments, fading these additional flavors in and out of focus exactly when his songs’ emotional development demands this. With this seasoned veteran at their helm, The Rusted Hearts’ seamlessly marry country, soul, pop, and rock, resulting in ten songs that appeal to just about everyone keeping an open ear.

Although Nielsen leads The Rusted Hearts, Heavy Metal isn’t just his journey. The album is credited to a band rather than just Nielsen for a reason: his intent in giving a name to this group was to make sure its members understand how deeply he values their guidance in his spiritual and musical explorations. These friends comprise the same clique that Nielsen has continued to record and tour with for years, a lineup that’s survived the treacherous changes that recent years have brought to his personal life. Since his 2009 debut, The Rusted Hearts have stuck right by his side, and he continues to return to the favor by continuing to expand his musical endeavors into a grander, more layered sound fitting for a full band to work with.

Recent years have seen The Rusted Hearts sharing stages with similar artists including Dr. Dog and Rhett Miller to extensive fanfare and acclaim. The Hearts’ time on the road allowed the band members’ interpersonal chemistry to blossom, driving them to reimagine Nielsen’s past solo songs as vivid, full band anthems. This kind of transformation can be attributed to Nielsen being raised in a household that appreciated the classic rock band setup – yes, this is the same Nielsen blood that runs throughout Cheap Trick lead guitarist and main songwriter Rick Nielsen’s veins – but it’s more strongly a result of his extensive background in classical voice and recording engineering, two vital musical areas he has degrees in. Heavy Metal’s aching, heartfelt vocals and pristine, lucid production attest to Nielsen’s extensive skills in these areas, but more importantly, they remind listeners that they’re listening to a truly talented musician and songwriter.

Dick Prall

Based in Chicago and born in Iowa, singer/songwriter Dick Prall comes to his easygoing – and sometimes goofy – manner quite naturally. In person, he's charming, often peppering his conversations with clever asides wherever possible. Though he readily admits to enjoying the embrace of company, it was Prall's exploration of what he calls "autonomy" that brought a whole new spin to his latest work.

After the release of the critical and audience favorite fizzlebuzzie in 2005, most of the musicians Prall recorded with went their separate ways. It was an amicable split, but one that put him in the familiar position of starting over.

His first album, 1998's rootsy Somewhere About Here, was recorded under the name The Dick Prall Band, but the group disbanded within a year. 2001's Dressing Up The Failure was a hard-driving pop record that found Prall recording with a different set of musicians under the name Starch Martins. Despite the new approach, he says the album left him creatively exhausted.

Though always quick to praise the musicians who help fuel his sharp, observational songwriting, Prall found himself turning away from the madness of crowds as he began work on his next album. No longer surrounded by the familiar, one might have expected Prall to write songs that explore all his inner demons. Instead, he found comfort in being alone, and sought to preserve that intimacy.

The product of that exploration is Weightless.

There's a restless energy coursing throughout the album, in part because of an immediacy of sound attributable to a change in Prall's usual recording style. "Rather than tracking all the instruments and then me coming in and laying my vocals down in sort of a 'studio karaoke' kind of way," he says, "I recorded my guitar and vocal parts first and then we built the song around those." This method allowed him to work at a feverish pace, writing half the album's songs after the band began tracking it, "which is unheard of for me."

And then there are the wanderlust lyrics, often dropping references to cars, the road, or a search for something, usually the truth, either about oneself or one's partner. Prall says that in writing the album, he became interested in those who found themselves living lives they'd never intended.

"Some of the songs – 'I Took A Life,' 'B&W,' 'Devils' – are about some less-than-attractive characters who don't necessarily feel held down by any guilt or real regret for their actions," Prall says.

All this again hints at dark places and angst, but clever turns of phrase keep the whole production from drifting into an exercise in navel-gazing. A song about a dissolving relationship is titled "The Cornflake Song," evoking just a hint of a smirk. Sidewalks are told to behave, and on the muscle-bound "Side By Side," a lover is accused of "talking out your eyes," though the way Prall sneers the last word leaves it sounding more like the part of your body that's used for sitting, not seeing.

The arrangements on Weightless carry the same light. There's violin throughout and a marimba-like instrument called a vibraceleste accenting the songs with a chiming ring. Plenty of space exists for guitar at the forefront and sing-a-long hooks. The crack group of musicians here, some of whom are bandmates involved with Prall's previous works, know when to add a swirling fill, and when to get out of the way. Most of all, the melodic voices of the characters in these songs float to the surface, recalling the album's title.

Prall has said that he relishes the very act of singing, and as he tours behind Weightless, one expects him to find a renewed sense of enthusiasm for crowds, finding that same old energy again. In the past, his albums have taken years to come into being. But now that he's found the same fire in an empty room, perhaps one can hope not just for his usual quality, but an increase in quantity as well.

Written by Scott Smith

John Craigie

For the past seven years, John Craigie has taken his unique musical style across the western United States. He stays true to the essence of folk music, and the traditions of the seminal writers of our past century. With timeless melodies and insightful lyrics—interspersed with witty storytelling—his songs take many poetic turns before bringing you back home. His themes range from social commentary to personal empowerment, political satire, and modern love. He has traveled all of this planet, having played in all 50 states and beyond, bringing his music to the world. John Craigie writes, sings, and plays for the people.

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