Buddy & Julie Miller

Buddy & Julie Miller

with Slaid Cleaves

IOTA Club & Café, Arlington, VA • February 28, 2000

Buddy and Julie Miller, at first glance, seem like the oddest of odd couples. Buddy is a no-nonsense country singer with a nasal but soulful voice who knows his way around a fretboard. Julie is his slightly goofy, girlish, seemingly high-maintenance wife who brings a hand puppet onstage and sings emotional songs of loss and longing. Fortunately, both of them are terrific songwriters and interpreters, and sound great harmonizing together.

Backed by a solid rhythm section of Lincoln Schliefer on bass and Denny McDermott on drums, the Millers performed songs from each of their recent solo albums for the overflow IOTA crowd. Although they are billed separately on their albums, each features significant contributions from the other. The band allowed the Millers to perform fully fleshed out versions of songs from Julie’s recent Broken Things , such as the blues-rocker “I Need You” and “Out in the Rain.” Those songs are highlighted by keening harmonies and Buddy’s excellent but not flashy fretwork that has made him a favorite sideman of Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. Songs like the swampy “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” from Buddy’s 1999 album, Cruel Moon , came alive as well.

Buddy told the crowd this was the first show they had played with a band in quite awhile. As a result, there was some confusion early on, as they decided which songs to play. Julie humorously suggested it wasn’t the band that was the problem. Of course with the wealth of great songs spread across their recent albums, it’s hard to blame them for a little indecision.

Buddy Miller turned in soulful lead vocals on songs from 1997’s Poison Love , like Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and the heartbreaking ballad “Don’t Tell Me.” And Julie performed fragile, yearning versions of “Broken Things” and “I Still Cry” with the accompaniment of Buddy’s finger-picked acoustic. She provided plastic tub percussion on “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” and acoustic guitar on several songs.

Even weaker numbers like the Steve Earle-influenced “Strange Lover,” which doesn’t suit Julie’s voice very well, featured tasty guitar leads from Buddy. Same on Buddy’s sub-par, somewhat generic honky-tonker, “Help Wanted.”

A first encore concluded with the corny but sweet “I Don’t Mean Maybe.” And Buddy and the band returned for a second encore of the Tom T. Hall classic “That’s How I Got to Memphis” which he covered on 1995’s Your Love and Other Lies . He apologized to the audience that his voice was almost shot after doing too many songs in a row, but he still nailed every nuance of the song and had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Austin, Texas singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves opened the show with an impressive set of blue-collar folk that owed a debt to the aforementioned Steve Earle, and perhaps Steve Forbert, as well. His style was best showcased in songs like “One Good Year” from his new Gurf Morlix-produced disc, Broke Down .

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