After the show at New York’s Mercury Lounge, Miles Nielsen shows me his new ink. His right forearm reads “Sydney,” his left, “Milan.” These are his daughters’ names, written out in their handwriting. And on the underside of his arms are their birthdays. “Someone told me these are the most wholesome tattoos ever,” he says with a laugh — “and I guess that’s true.”
Anyone who follows Miles’s career can attest to the music acumen, imagination, and verve, both in studio and on stage. And those who recognize his surname know that he’s been on both sides of the musician parent equation, that tug-of-war between road and home. With smartphones, connectivity has come a long way since the ’70s and ’80s, when Miles’ dad — Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick — was touring hard. But even with texts and Facetime calls, you still miss your family. The tattoos are one way that Miles carries his girls along with him during the long stretches on the road.
Miles and his band, The Rusted Hearts, released their third studio album, Heavy Metal, last year (check out the title track here). The album was produced by Kentucky’s Duane Lundy, whose extensive discography includes work with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. If you read reviews of Heavy Metal with an eye on the varied reference points — folk rock, guitar pop, Wilco, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac — you’ll get a flavor of how these songs defy categorization. What Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts have created is far more than the sum of their influences. Put simply, there’s nothing else quite like this out there, and few bands as adept at translating complex studio arrangements into deliciously textured live sets.
That’s because Miles hits the sweet spot of lyricism and revved-up roots rock carved through with dancable grooves. It’s because his band — Daniel James McMahon (guitar), Adam Plamann (keys, horns), Dave McClellan (bass), and Jeff Werckle (drums) — are sonic alchemists. For all the heaviness of the narratives in the songs — lovers who turn into strangers, simpler times in the rearview mirror, roads that wear us down, and the riptides of sociopolitical troubles — the music radiates energy and joy … not the starry-eyed, saccharine kind, but the sort that warms you as you point the steering wheel home.
However you classify his music, Miles has an undeniable knack for writing the kind of radio-friendly hooks that’ll have you humming the chorus all day long. Just don’t bust out the dance moves on your subway commute — not unless you’re prepared to unplug the headphones and turn the volume up, ‘cos hey, sharing is caring. And it’s plain how much these guys care, both about continuously pushing and refining their craft and making sure the audience has a damn good time.
Miles Nielsen and The Rusted Hearts are headed to Europe next month. But fret not — they’ll be back stateside before long. Find their tour dates here.
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