Rhett Miller's songs are as shaggy and ragged as the mop on his head. They're appealing in a sort of unkempt way -- not too pretty, and containing enough shards of truth that you keep paying attention. At the Black Cat on Tuesday night, he and his part-time three-piece band, the Instigators, rocked, rolled and occasionally sputtered through a generous set.
Miller's full-time band is the Dallas alt-country outfit the Old 97's, but the singer and songwriter took a break to release a solo album, "The Instigator," in September. The music on the new record isn't so vastly different from his Old 97's material that he couldn't have recorded it with them; maybe they just wanted some time off.
Opening with the thundering country-rocker "The El," Miller eventually made it to all 12 "Instigator" songs, including "Four-Eyed Girl," a stomper that recalls the Pogues at their drunken best, and the sweet and consoling "Your Nervous Heart." His voice, alternating between hardscrabble growl and sweet falsetto, led the songs around their emotional bends and curves.
Because he leads an alt-country band and has now released his own album, Miller has been compared to Ryan Adams, who left Whiskeytown to pursue a solo career. But Miller does not seem as unduly smitten with his own material. And, thankfully, he doesn't have Adams's delusions of singer-songwriter grandeur either.
Miller's love songs, a mix of the happy and hard-luck variety, are straightforward and catchy. And the crowd, rowdier as the night went on, cheered the new material as well as old favorites like "Jagged" and "Big Brown Eyes" and the especially entertaining "Oh Erica," a paean to his wife, sung to the tune of "America the Beautiful."
-- Joe Heim