The husband and wife songwriting team reunite here for their first set of new songs in ten years. In truth the songs have been written by Julie in the period Buddy was busy working with a host of luminaries from the world of Americana. Back in 2009 the duo released ‘Written In Chalk’ and eight years before that their ‘Buddy and Julie Miller’ album won the “Album of the Year” Award from the Americana Music Association. The 2010s have seen the couple have quite different experiences. Julie struggled with illness and that led to some depression. Buddy on the other hand was still in demand, a list of the people he worked with would take up the rest of this review. It’s worth throwing in a few to get a sense of the geography of his experience; how about Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch. And that is before we mention touring with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss with ‘Raising Sand’ and joining Plant’s Band of Holy Joy.
When not touring he has produced many of those already mentioned. And then there is the session work. So this is a busy, in demand guy. And one who was “always about to get back to work with Julie”. All things come to those that wait and so along came ‘Breakdown on 20th Ave. South’ (it is the address of their Nashville home and studio). Buddy was full of guilt, full of apologies, and feelings of neglect. Julie had been managing her health, but also writing, writing, writing. The couple had 50 to 60 songs to choose the twelve on here from. Lyrically the choice reflects her frustrations.
Eventually Buddy hauled recording equipment into the couple’s bedroom above their famed studio (if its good enough for Solomon Burke, Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant…) and they recorded ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’, the song Julie said she wrote for Buddy as a message to stop putting off working on this album. The song, like many on the record features some delicate delay-drenched guitar figures and the harmonies that act as a leitmotif for the album, harmonies that more than anything on the record gird the idea that when this couple make a record there is a natural click ready to happen.
This is a record that is intimate and dependable; no matter how long we had to wait we could be pretty sure the end result would satisfy. Buddy and Julie live this music and they are a safe pair of hands, ploughing traditions that are comforting and reassuring. Their absence may have been felt, but their influence, through Buddy’s production work is more widely felt. Such is the extent that he works with others, often in the background that he has attracted the ‘sideman’ soubriquet, forever in the shadow.
So how widely is he known in his own right? OK, so having won 12 Americana Music Honours and Awards (and been nominated for seven others) between 2002 and 2103 is an indication that he is a musicians’ musician at least. But the crucial thing is how many people will choose this record over, say, some of the people Miller has worked with? This is a great record, and those delay infused arpeggios, the harmonies, the acoustic-led numbers (‘Till the Stardust Comes Apart’; ‘Everything is Your Fault’), the downright dirty bluesy groove songs (‘Breakdown on 20th Ave. South’; ‘Underneath the Sky’), ‘Thoughts at 2am’ which has more than a whiff of Dylan – all say that Julie has written some fine tunes, which, as she said, Buddy helped craft into what she wanted to create.
I fear that Buddy and Julie may get lost in the land of ‘Those that know’ – aficionados that talk of ‘great albums’ that play to all the aspects that purists love. I am just not sure there is enough here to draw in new listeners. That is an observation, though, on the vast amount of music ‘out there’, it is not a criticism; ‘Breakdown on 20th Ave. South’ is a wholly satisfying album and is certainly one readers of this site should check out.