Artist: Greg Graffin
Release Date: 03/10/2017
I was unfamiliar with Bad Religion frontman, Greg Graffin. The Bad Religion and Social Distortion played together 36 years ago and learned that each had an affinity for country rock and old-timey music. Graffin has long wanted to make an album with this kind of sound—echoes of The Eagles, vintage bluegrass and Celtic riffs, and that California ’70s vibe associated with Gram Parsons and The Byrds.
Graffin, who has led Bad Religion, since 1979, had this to say about the album, “Millport is my exploration of the paradox between getting older and remaining relevant. There’s a great amount of symbolism in that idea. It goes along with me being an aging punk rocker that’s coming to terms with my own mortality and humanity. Somehow, we persist in the face of modernity and things always trying to move past us.” Graffin’s family roots go back to Indiana and Wisconsin where he learned the old timey style from his grandparents. He says, “My family was very musically oriented and we sang in harmony all the time because my mother was raised in a strict religious setting where there was a lot of a cappella singing, but instruments were not allowed.”
Graffin is an interesting cat. He’s been a college professor at UCLA and Cornell, teaching courses on science, paleontology and evolution. He has authored books on science and religion, most recently Population Wars. He thinks of this record as the musical expression of the paradox in that book—persistence in the face of change.
Bad Religion partner Brett Gurewitz joined as producer. He and Graffin assembled Social Distortion musicians Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham on guitar, Brent Harding on bass, and David Hidalgo Jr. on drums. To add rustic flavor, he tapped childhood friend David Bragger on banjo and fiddle. The Celtic-tinged opener, “Backroads of My Mind” evokes the landscapes of the Finger Lakes region of New York (or Killarney, Ireland for that matter), an area that Graffin now calls home. The harmonies in “Too Many Virtues” could trace right to The Eagles. “Lincoln’s Funeral Train” has a heavier Crazy Horse feel and raises some interesting questions, especially given today’s political climate. “Time of Need” uses the old religious refrain from ‘Amen”. But, the focus is mainly on the small, long established towns like Millport in the title track, along with tunes like “Echo on the Hill” and ‘Sawmill.”
Graffin sums up the paradox of persistence this way. “There’s a real Millport around where I live and it’s a small blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town that holds and incredibly interesting history….You see these old buildings and artifacts, yet they are somehow persisting. The fact that they’ve been around for so long, and are still there, should give us pause.”
While all of this may seem a bit esoteric or intellectual, the music offers a comforting, folksy, old-time sound that will conjure up plenty of imagery. The harmonies and instrumentation are strong throughout. This one’s a keeper.