By Cole Faulkner
Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin has done it all. From penning academic works exploring the interaction between evolution and religion, delivering lectures at the University of Cornell and University of California, to fronting one of the most celebrated punk rock bands of the past thirty years, little has remained beyond Graffin’s scope of engagement.
For a man with so much on the go, Graffin has always budgeted a little time for himself. This typically takes the form of a solo album about every ten or so years. Each contribution has defined itself uniquely. 1997’s piano driven American Lesion was inspired by the breakup of his marriage, and 2008’s Cold As The Clay paid respects to the Americana that continues to influence Graffin’s songwriting.
His third outing, Millport, serves as a pure passion piece, of which Graffin has likened the organic nature of the songwriting process to that which led to the iconic Bad Religion classic, Suffer. Performed in a straight up country-rock format, produced and co-written by Bad Religion songwriter Brett Gurewitz, the album features backing instrumentation courtesy members of Social Distortion. In many ways, Millport is to Graffin what Nick 13’s solo work is to Tiger Army – a significant and passionately executed detour.
Millport is an album defining itself through a healthy dose of country-driven twang, with Graffin’s vocals following suit. “Backroads of My Mind” sets the tone by kicking up a little dust and drawing gearing up the honky tonk. It’s far from anything remotely resembling punk-rock, and once you get over the initial shock and embrace the underlying authenticity, thrives because of it. That being said, Graffin continues to draw upon stylistic staples like sweeping vocal harmonies and steady melodies in songs like “Too Many Virtues,” alongside traditional elements ranging from shifting pedal steel to string plucking banjos. The title track feels particularly powerful, serving as a significant album standout that weaves in each instrument and influence. Like a classic Bad Religion song, Graffin latches onto a melody and squeezes every ounce of momentum from chorus straight through to the late song bridge. Other highlights like “Making Time,” “Echo On The Hill,” and “Sawmill” capture a distinctly rural spirit, filled with subtle “woah ohs” and tuneful backing fiddle and mandolin. “Time of Need” is a particularly noteworthy aside due largely to the infusion of gospel elements reflecting Graffin’s belief that at the very least, religion has afforded the world with a fine soundtrack.
Overall, Millport shouldn’t be shocking to those of us that have grown up alongside Bad Religion, but it’s understandable for those less versed to find the country-rock content surprising to say the least. Greg Graffin has had a remarkable career, and Millport affords yet another notable point of reference. While country rock may not be for everyone, Millport stands to impress those willing to take Graffin’s latest solo for a spin.