Buddy & Julie Miller

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Buddy & Julie Miller

(Hightone)

Buddy and Julie Miller have a lot going for them. Together, the two of them sound nearly perfect, a country duo that compares more with Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons than with George Jones and Tammy Wynette. Buddy Miller's guitar playing is stinging yet earthy at the same time. They borrow songs from Bob Dylan ("Wallflower") and Richard Thompson ("Keep Your Distance"), and enlist Emmylou Harris for another (the sublime "Forever Has Come to an End"). Their songs have a backwater melancholy that never quite congeals into gloom, while their sparse arrangements, substituting a Hammond B-3 for steel guitar, can still stomp ferociously as on "Little Darlin'." Their songwriting is stunningly evocative and powerful, with Julie Miller's lyrics gently asserting her spirituality. "Rachel" is especially powerful, dedicated to Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine shootings. Her voice particularly shines on "You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast," a sly combination of innocence and sex that's punctuated by a raw and nasty guitar solo halfway through. Together, the emotional intensity of the Miller's voices never lets the slower songs sound lazy or languid. This is what alt.country really should be; country music with the overproduction stripped away, direct and unpretentious.

***

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