The celebrated Americana twosome remain in grand form on this much-anticipated album.
It’s a hearty welcome back to Buddy & Julie Miller, by now eligible to be considered as the grand old couple of Americana, but, on this reckoning still as vital as ever. ‘In the Throes’, their fourth album together follows on from 2019’s ‘Breakdown On 20th Ave. South’, only a four year wait then, but there was a ten-year gap between that and their second album ‘Written In Chalk’.
It presumably doesn’t help the pair’s recording schedule that Buddy Miller is one of the hardest working men in the Americana scene, guitar for hire, producer, TV and movie music executive and inveterate collaborationist. Julie Miller, who struggled for a period of time with a chronic illness, has noted how her husband’s workload interfered with their career in past songs but there’s no doubt that when the pair do get together sparks fly.
‘In The Throes’ features 11 songs written by Julie along with an interesting co-write. Buddy handles the guitar duties with the pair backed by Fred Eltringham on drums, Victor Krauss or Byron House on bass, and Tim Lauer on Keyboards. Guest artists include Emmylou Harris, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Regina McCrary, Gurf Morlix and Matt Slocum. With songs encompassing rock, country and gospel soul, they take turns singing lead while several of the numbers find then harmonising throughout with Julie’s voice still as distinctive as ever.
The album opens with one of its strongest numbers, the yearning ache of ‘You’re My Thrill’ with Julie singing of solitude and longing as the band almost tip toe behind her. Buddy joins in the harmonies and adds some gorgeous guitar blossoms. They crank it up for a notch for the crunchy rocker which is the title song, the pair both singing lead over a swirling organ and snarly guitars sounding for all the world like the band X. They return to this L.A. punk-infused sound later in the album on ‘The Painkillers Aren’t Working’ while ‘I Been Around’ is a skeletal and murky blues romp.
In stark contrast, there’s the sparkling ‘Nicolo’ which opens with acoustic instruments dancing around the words before the band weighs in quite merrily, sounding almost like The Band. It’s followed by the most affecting song here, ‘I Love You’ with the married pair conjoined in voice and emotion as they run down all the things they would do for each other. Almost on a par is a song written to commemorate the late civil rights campaigner, Congressman John Lewis. The title, ‘The Last Bridge You Will Cross’, is a reference to Lewis’ participation in the infamous Selma Bridge march. Here, Emmylou Harris joins in on the vocals while Matt Slocum’s sorrowful cello adds to the elegiac quality of the song.
The most talked about track here will be ‘Don’t Make Her Cry’ given that one of its authors is Bob Dylan. The story is that when gospel singer Regina McCrary was signed up to tour with Dylan, her father, ever protective, said those self same words to Dylan who then worked them into a song with McCrary’s assistance. Allegedly, Dylan then told McCrary to give the song to Buddy Miller and so here it is with some tweaks from Julie. Don’t expect any Dylan like gems here but just wallow in this very fine soulful number, sung by Buddy with Regina McCrary singing along. The album closes with a short and delightful little ditty ‘Oh Shout’ which recalls Julie Miller’s kinship with Victoria Williams. A nice quirky end to a mighty fine album.