After his 1984 debacle, Italian X-Rays, Steve Miller made a fine comeback two years later with Living in the 20th Century. Dedicated to Jimmy Reed, it was his first blues album in over 15 years.
Miller took complete control of the recording process again. Unlike his last effort where his band members wrote the majority of the material, now he wrote five of the tracks himself. Three Jimmy Reed covers plus several other blues songs made it one of the better efforts of the second half of his career.
The album has a cohesive flow to it. It begins with four original Miller compositions before transitioning to his interpretations of six blues songs, finally finishing with another original.
There is a lot of good music on the album. The best of his originals is “Behind the Barn” as both James Cotton and Norton Buffalo contributed with some harp play, and Les Dudek added a country sound with his dobro. “Slinky” is an often overlooked gem in his vast catalogue of music. It is an instrumental that contains one of the better guitar performances of his career. It finds Miller laid back and relaxed and makes one wish he would record more guitar-oriented songs. “I Want the World to Turn Around” settles into a nice groove with saxophone player Kenny G.
The Jimmy Reed covers were a labor of love. “I Wanna be Loved (But Only by You)” and “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” are given modernized interpretations. “Caress Me Baby” served as a jumping off point for some more of Miller’s guitar improvisation that would have made Reed proud. Add in such tunes as “My Babe” and “Big Boss Man” and you have a nice grouping of classic blues interpretations.
Living in the 20th Century is an album that often floats under the Steve Miller radar. It is a fine album that deserves more attention as it found Miller in a place he had not visited in quite a while. If you ever want to explore the Steve Miller Band outside of his better known releases, then this is the place to start.