By Donna Herman
Mark Arthur Miller played a set, “Soul Searching,” (also the name of his 2013 album) at the Triad the other night, dedicated to Motown and the soul music he became obsessed with growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960’s. Not surprising when you consider that he found out his estranged father was the only white songwriter for Motown Records at the time by looking at the credits on a record label. And by record, I mean a vinyl 45 rpm round black thing with grooves in it – in case you’ve never heard of it.
There’s no question that the Motown sound is in Mr. Miller’s DNA. Not only was it handed down in his gene pool – his father Ron Miller penned such hits as Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” and “Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday” and Diana Ross’ “Touch Me In the Morning” among many others – but he and his mother and sister were the only white family left in a neighborhood hit hard by “white flight.” His best friends were, and still are, the black kids he grew up with and the music he listened to during those years was wat they were listening to.
But I didn’t need to know the back story when I saw him dance his way up to the tiny Triad stage in a silver sharkskin suit to the opening strains of Smokey Robinson’s “Get Ready” on Thursday night. He’s got the moves and he’s got the voice. And he and his Music Director Peter Smith have done some snug arrangements of classic Motown songs.
On the upbeat numbers like “Get Ready,” “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and the medley of his father’s songs, they set up the classic beats and kept the melodies close enough to the originals with just an occasional twist to make it interesting. His delivery was infectious, and he and his back-up vocalists Lauren Scales and Joy Hanson managed some tight, period correct choreography on the postage stamp sized stage that was fun to watch. The only arrangement that missed for me was the iconic Otis Redding number “Dock of the Bay.” They took the melody so far out from the original that it fought the music and became unrecognizable and frustrating to listen to.
But where Mr. Miller really outdid himself was on a couple of the slower classics; a medley of “My Girl/Just My Imagination” and “Tracks of My Tears.” With iconic songs like these that everyone knows so well (ok, everyone of a certain age…ahem), it’s hard to shed new light on them. He managed to do that by slowing them down just a little bit, not straying too far from the melody, and digging into the lyrics by using his own phrasing which forced you to really hear them in a fresh way. He sang them with so much passion and feeling it was like you were hearing the songs in a confessional. Absolutely breathtaking.
If you’re somewhere where he’s playing, and you’re a Motown/soul music fan you’ll have a great time at his set. If that’s not your thing, well, what can I say, you’re obviously too young to have grown up with that music and your parents sadly neglected your musical education.
Mark Arthur Miller “Soul Searching” The Triad; October 17, 2019
Peter Smith, Music Director and Pianist, Lauren Scales (Background Vocals), Joy Hanson (Background Vocals), Antoine Drye (Trumpet), Stacy Dillard (Tenor Sax), Al Street (Guitar), Thomas Gooding (Bass), Greg Gonzalez (Drums)