Blake Mills is a guitarist, Grammy-winning producer, and recording artist. He is best known as a session musician and vocalist as well as a producer and remixer. Mills has performed on well over 200 recordings with artists ranging from Kid Rock, Dangermouse, and Paulo Nutini to Norah Jones, Lana Del Rey, and Weezer. He began recording as a headline artist with 2010's Break Mirrors, but his breakthrough was with 2014's widely celebrated Heigh Ho. The self-produced album's sidemen included Don Was, Jim Keltner, Mike Elizondo, and Benmont Tench. That same year, he worked with Diana Krall, Johnny Hallyday, Alabama Shakes, and Sara Bareilles. Mills continued to work as a sideman and touring musician with John Legend, Randy Newman, Bruce Hornsby, and Jim James. He reentered the studio to issue his 2018 all-instrumental offering Look. Mills began his musical career as a founding member of Simon Dawes with Taylor Goldsmith. They recorded and released the EP What No One Hears in 2005 and the full-length Carnivore in 2006. After he left, the band shortened their name to Dawes. Mills became a touring guitarist for Jenny Lewis. He also served as a hired gun for Band of Horses, Lucinda Williams, and Julian Casablancas. Until that time, Mills never really considered himself a solo artist. His first recording on his own, Break Mirrors, was released with the intention of securing more session work and becoming a producer. The end result was widely acclaimed for its overall originality in writing, arranging, and producing. His strategy worked. He co-produced Jesca Hoop's The House That Jack Built in 2011, and produced fiddler Sarah Watkins' sophomore release, Sun Midnight Sun. Mills produced, co-produced, and/or played on several tracks by several other musicians as well as contributing to compilations. His co-production and performance of "Oh Well," with Billy Gibbons and Matt Sweeney, on the tribute album Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac was considered by many to be the set's highlight. Mills began recording his sophomore offering, Heigh Ho, at Capitol's Ocean Way studio (the room was built for Frank Sinatra) with a host of guests who included Fiona Apple, Jon Brion, Benmont Tench, Don Was, and Jim Keltner. The album was released in September 2014. Mills produced Alabama Shakes' 2015 LP Sound & Color, which wound up snagging him a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. He also shared in the record's win for Best Alternative Album of the Year. During 2016 and 2017, he produced albums by Perfume Genius and Dawes. He returned to his solo career in 2018 with Look, an instrumental album recorded while he was learning how to play vintage guitar synthesizers. After the requisite touring and more studio work with Bruce Hornsby, Bareilles, and Andrew Bird, as well as others, Mills reentered the studio in 2019 with a slew of musicians who included Rob Moose, Cass McCombs, Pino Palladino, Patrick Warren, Sam Gendel, and Gabriel Kahane. He crafted Mutable Set, a collection of 11 songs as a soundtrack to the emotional dissonance of modern life. He co-wrote five tracks with McCombs and another with Kahane. The full-length was released in May of 2020.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop - Released September 16, 2014 | Blake Mills Label JV
Guitarist, songwriter, and producer Blake Mills was celebrated as an outsider talent for his debut effort Break Mirrors in 2010. The fact was he'd already established himself among the fraternity of musicians. He initially recorded that set with the conscious goal of securing more session work. Mills realized it, and also did live work with everyone from Fiona Apple and Neil Diamond to Band of Horses and Norah Jones, and became a producer as well. Heigh Ho furthers the reach of Break Mirrors. Recorded mostly at Capitol's Ocean Way studio -- built specifically for Frank Sinatra -- its sound is warm, spacious, and full. He enlisted a cast of heavy friends to assist as well. Fiona Apple sings on two of the record's finest tracks. The first, "Seven," is a heartbroken yet dreamy, country-ish love song (the other players include Don Was, Jim Keltner, Gabriel Kahane, and Benmont Tench) appended by some contrasting (and tasty) funky blues guitar playing. The second, "Don't Tell Our Friends About Me," is a shuffling, rockist Americana number. It's grittier yet lyrically more upbeat. The vibe is loose with twin tiples played by Mills and Jon Brion, and the songwriter's shambolic drums. The contrast in the singer's voices on the chorus -- Apple's tender alto and Mills' grainier baritone -- creates an emotional depth in one of the set's finest moments. "Half Asleep" is intimate and sweet; it's a nearly pastoral love song that feels like a lullaby with a 1930s-sounding coda. "Three Days in Havana" showcases a typically understated yet expert Latin tinge in the guitarist's playing, though the melody sounds like a nod to Elliott Smith. "Before It Fell" begins with an implied mariachi lilt. Mills uses both guitarron and guitar. Mike Elizondo's bassline is initially the only accompaniment. After the bridge, with Griffin Goldsmith's percussion and Rob Moose's strings simulating horns, it becomes a full mariachi boogie. There's a long, meandering trio jam entitled "Shed Your Head" with Keltner's drums and Moose's strings; it evolves from laid-back to a greasy cooker. It comes off as a labyrinthine intro to "Curable Disease." Another broken love song, it's played as a duo with Keltner. It is so subtle in its melody and arrangement, it's evocative of another time -- say an early-'70s Ry Cooder album. This is another part of Heigh Ho's beauty. It moves through musical eras and genres without ever sounding out of place, too clever, or at all clumsy. Mills is as centered as a songwriter as he is a player and producer. There is nothing extra here and that's as it should be. Heigh Ho puts on offer much of what he's learned these past four years, and displays it all with acumen and openness. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
Alternative & Indie - Released November 30, 2018 | Blake Mills Artist JV 2017
Blake Mills earned a reputation as producer and guitarist who prized authenticity in his work, which is what makes his 2018 album Look so startling. Consisting of five tracks of wordless, formless ambient music, Look is essentially a process album. Mills recorded the brief album -- at 25 minutes, it could conceivably be called an EP -- while learning how to play a bunch of vintage Roland guitar synthesizers, which explains why Look is amorphous and adventurous; the music keeps shifting shapes thanks to the new discoveries Mills made while recording the album. If Look doesn't quite reward close listening, it nevertheless provides exquisite background listening: the moods and textures shift slowly and seamlessly, providing a sense of forward motion, yet never quite straying from the spacy, slightly spooky, mood Mills establishes at the outset. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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