More than any other city, Chicago is ground zero for the alternative-country movement. It's home to Wilco, Bloodshot Records and a vibrant music scene that regularly produces talent like Chris Mills, who is among the finest of the second generation of alt-country singers. Just 25 years old, Mills grew up in downstate Illinois, where he absorbed Lou Reed and Uncle Tupelo in seemingly equal measure. That combination of influences pays dividends on Mills's new album, Kiss It Goodbye
, just as it did on his 1998 debut, Every Night Fight for Your Life
. Like his musical forebears, Mills is possessed by spirits of aimlessness, heartbreak and yearning that bleed into gracefully crafted songs, whether they're hopeful rockers like "Brand New Day" or aching ballads like "Watch Chain." He has a true flair for the latter style and seems to live for getting dumped.
But it's his skill as a songwriter that lifts Mills above others who mine similar territory. He imbues each of the ten tracks here with his intrinsic sense of meter and melody, a world-weariness that belies his age, and the country singer's gift for metaphor and turns of phrase ("Don't want to raise another one like me/One who would fold so easily/Like a napkin in a wine glass," from "Napkin in a Wine Glass"). Mills's ambition is also worth mentioning: Not content merely to channel Gram Parsons, he adds squalls of feedback, classic rock overtures and Spectorish flourishes to several tracks, and succeeds more often than not. All of which is to suggest that, unlike other preternaturally gifted young songwriters (paging Ryan Adams!), Mills still has plenty more up his sleeve.