NEPA Scene Staff

Scranton singer turned Nashville songwriter Mike Miz is ‘Only Human’ on redemptive new album

Scranton singer turned Nashville songwriter Mike Miz is ‘Only Human’ on redemptive new album
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From a press release:

After years as a regular fixture in the Northeast jam scene, Americana singer/songwriter Mike Mizwinski – better known simply as Mike Miz – found just what he was seeking when he moved to Nashville in pursuit of the highest level of songcraft and guitar playing three years ago.

Hailing from Scranton, the prolific folk rocker spent the better part of the last decade playing festivals, clubs, and songwriter joints from Philadelphia to Asbury Park to New York City. Highlights from more than 200 shows per year include opening for Jakob Dylan, Jason Isbell, Lukas Nelson, Derek Trucks, America, Shawn Colvin, Blues Traveler, Railroad Earth, Jackie Greene, Southside Johnny, and sharing the stage with many more.

Shortly after his arrival in the Nashville music scene, Miz’s unique talent garnered the attraction of industry pillars Ted Pecchio, Laur Joamets, Jon Radford, and engineer/producer Brook Sutton, who assembled a top-notch band around him. This collaboration resulted in the recording of 11 new, original songs tracked live to tape in three days at the Wood Brother’s studio in West Nashville.

The new album, “Only Human,” tells the story of a 15-year battle with heroin addiction, love lost, years wasted, troubles with the law, and more, unrolling an autobiographical journey that culminates with the optimistic redemption of a man who never gave up.

It is set to debut this Friday, May 12 via Blackbird Record Label, with a hometown-area release show at the River Street Jazz Cafe (667 N. River St., Plains), backed by his local band the Northeast Extension. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the music starts at 7:30 p.m. with The Broke Pines. Tickets, which are $15 in advance or $18 at the door, are on sale now via HoldMyTicket.

“Only Human” opens with “Hand of the Sculptor,” an “Exile on Main Street”-inspired rocker with gooseflesh-inciting slide playing by Laur Joamets and hair-raising vocals by Amber Woodhouse. The lead single paints a picture of the archetypal Appalachian coal mining cities where Miz grew up. Kicking off with the all-too-true opening line, “There’s only a ghost left of Main Street,” he lyrically illustrates a bleak epoch working third shift in a printing factory in York, Pennsylvania to pay his recovery house rent with “the doorway’s the mouth of a monster / made of bricks piled up to the sky / with windows like eyes that are haunted / the factory wants you for life.”

This song is not without hope, as its true message is revealed: “I’m back up against the ropes again / and I might have to swing my way out / but it ain’t no big thing / life’s gonna hurt you / hand of the sculptor / I am the stone.” Like a boxer pinned against ropes in a losing battle, the narrator realizes he is still standing and relinquishes to the fact that pain and struggle are part of life. “Hand of the Sculptor” is about the moment of surrender and the wisdom and power that can come next.

The album’s title track was born out of inspiration from listening to Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The song materialized over two socially distant porch writing sessions in East Nashville and Madison, Tennessee with Miz’s writing companion and fellow Northeastern Pennsylvania native Bob Lewis and features the perspective of someone watching their relationship crumble, helplessly aware that they lack the ability to prevent its demise. The chorus recognizes our humanly limitations with, “If I could change your mind / turn back time / save it all from ruin / if I could walk through walls / break your fall / that’s what I’d be doing / but I’m only human.” During the recording, the band noticed a nice gap in the middle that was unclaimed. The musicians unanimously agreed to ask a favorite guitar player, Sadler Vaden, to overdub a solo, and his acceptance resulted in arguably the best guitar moment on the album – the tone, phasing, and feel all coming together in a moment of musical fusion.

“Hell in the Hallway” is clever and catchy, accentuating Jon Radford’s pocket and featuring talented vocalist Nicki Bluhm’s beautiful harmonies. In this lyrically crafty song, the narrator challenges that which we accept as true, asking, “They say that something’s better than nothing / but there’s a couple things that I can’t figure out / how come you can’t keep a hound dog from running / when he’s got food and water right there at the house?” and further observes that other adages are not entirely truthful: “They say when one door closes / another one opens / but it’s hell in the hallway for now,” thus encouraging us to ask questions before accepting answers.

“Six Ways From Sunday” is a straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll number detailing the struggles and byproducts of active addiction – destroyed relationships, pursuit by the law, and a pressing need to skip town. Thankfully, the narrator finds himself in a new and better place and commits to a more meaningful life ahead: “You can find me somewhere in a good song / running my fingers up and down the strings / somewhere out there singing from my heart strong / I’m gonna be true to myself and true to the melody.”

“Less Than Paper Thin,” by far the most devastating track on the album, is about the veil between life and death. Its subject is lying in a hospital bed longing for an absent lover: “You used to leave your blue jeans in a corner on the floor / you told me all your secret dreams / you don’t talk like that anymore.” As he realizes the severity of the situation, he reconciles the fragility of life: “The great unknown before me / I’ve got nothing left to fear / no more holding on / no more holding on / no more holding on, my dear / and it’s less than paper thin / the veil between there and here.”

Other highlights on the record include the ending jam of “You Make Me Feel,” an unexpected episode of improvisation in which Jano Rix’s organ and Michael Borowski’s piano complement each other perfectly as the other players taper to a whisper before the eerie last chord sounds. “Tail Lights” is an old-fashioned country rocker about skipping town and feeling damn good about it that offers all-out jamming and interplay between Joamets (telecaster) and Borowski (honky tony upright) – all cut live and untouched in post-production.

“Understand” is an acoustic ballad of a man returning to his hometown and trying to make sense of where things went wrong. This song is also one live take, completely untouched in post, and highlights Ted Pecchio’s tasteful bass playing. “Wander Blue,” a Neil Young-inspired narrative featuring a beautiful steel solo by C.J. Colandrea, details the personal realization and acceptance that we just don’t have all the answers: “I’ve been fooled by my own thoughts of things / thought that I knew damn near everything / turns out I was wrong about it all.” “Adios,” the final number, is a heartfelt closer, born out of an unplanned writing session on a family kayaking trip between Miz and his Aunt Paula Cadden-Glodzik. Written from a woman’s perspective, “Adios” is about that moment after leaving when you realize that you will never go back.

This album exemplifies the serendipitous result of a talented artist connecting with the right producer and players to amplify his art and create a work that is so much more than the sum of its parts; it is a songwriter’s champion and an audiophile’s delight. At times desperate and dark, “Only Human” is true to its title, proving through its mere existence that hope can persist, and that our struggles and setbacks are part, but not the whole, of our story.

See NEPA Scene’s photos of Mike Miz performing at the 2019 Rockin’ the River concert series in Wilkes-Barre here and photos of him at Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre in 2017 here. Learn more about Miz, his 2018 album “A Year Ago Today,” and watch an exclusive acoustic performance in Episode 42 of the NEPA Scene Podcast: