Buddy Miller Cruel Moon (Hightone)
Cruel Moon (Hightone)
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Nov. 12, 1999
Cruel Moon (Hightone)The first sounds on Cruel Moon emanate from someplace deep inside Buddy Miller's soul. Against a spare framework of twangy guitar and the shake of a tambourine, he lets loose a ghostly howl that connects the listener to a time long ago. Eventually the tale of anguish and despair, "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?," builds into a backwoods rant filled with sawing fiddles and emphatically plucked banjo that sends shivers down your spine. While Miller's previous two releases have had their share of unadorned beauty, Cruel Moon nails every song. Miller has never sounded so confident, probably a result of his recent roadwork for both Emmylou Harris' Spyboy and Steve Earle's Dukes. Miller's guitar playing is skillful yet never flashy, while his vocals are a soulful match for the songs he chooses -- some written with his wife, Julie, others from a diverse group of writers that include Pops Staples, Earle, Paul Kennerly, and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. With vocal assistance from Earle, Harris, Jim Lauderdale, Joy Lynn White, and Julie, he delivers one song after another that echoes the simple themes of traditional country with a measure of blue-eyed soul that's uncommon these days. "Sometimes I Cry" is a spiritual that recalls the best Southern soul singers and confirms that Miller is a country boy in the same way Otis Redding was. Very few artists have made music this austere and powerful, and Cruel Moon smolders with unaffected tenderness by continuously upending expectations.