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Music Reviews

Buddy Miller & Friends

Buddy Miller & Friends

Cayamo Sessions At Sea

New West Records

The chances of me boarding a floating petri dish called a cruise ship are slim indeed, but if I do, I want Buddy Miller on it as well. In 2012 Miller rounded a bunch of the Nashville elites, put them on a ship and stuck mics in front of them, and the result- Cayamo Sessions at Sea is the result, and it’s damn fine. Buddy Miller has long been the nucleus around which great things happen, either as a guitarist, songwriter or producer, and he gets a chance to don his many hats here.

Doesn’t hurt that his friends are pretty special as well. Starting off with Lee Ann Womack on “After the Fire Is Gone”(damn that girl can sing) and followed up with a salute to Buck Owens by Kacey Musgraves on “Love’s Gonna Live Here”, Miller has assembled some of country music’s greatest voices and let them rip. Kris Kristofferson offers up his “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, while the homeless to headliner Doug Seegers sounds great on his “Take The Hand of Jesus”. Lucinda Williams is perfect on Gram Parson’s “Hickory Wind” and she’s matched by Shawn Colvin’s take on the Stones “Wild Horses”.

The band that Miller put together are no slouches either. From bassist Dave Jacques (a member of John Prine’s touring group), Joel Guzman on accordion, Larry Campbell on steel guitar, and the matchless Fats Kaplan on fiddle and steel, they, along with Miller on guitar, provide flawless backing for Richard Thompson on “Wedding Bells” or Nikki Lane on the Jack Clement classic “Just Someone I Used to Know”. Yes indeed, might need to develop some sea legs if Buddy Miller chooses to do this again!

www.newwestrecords.com

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Music Reviews

Blind Boys of Alabama

Blind Boys of Alabama

Take The High Road

Saguaro Road Records

I first heard about the Blind Boys of Alabama in a history of country music, and was pleasantly surprised to find them still in business. The group formed in 1939 and most of the founders are now departed, but they left an amazing discography of somewhere north of 50 discs. After 40 years on the Chitlin’ Circuit, they were finally recognized with six Grammys in the new century.

This collection mixes the Blind Boys leading on “Take the High Road” and “Jesus Hold My Hand.” Other tracks place them backing up the usual cast of hot Nashville hands. Willie Nelson handles “Family Bible” with a fiddle and harmonica, Vince Gill joins in on “Can You Give Me a Drink?” and Hank Williams Jr. jumps on “I Saw the Light.” Just to be clear, Mr. Gill was looking for water from the Samaritan Woman, not whiskey from Willie.

The Blind Boys sing in a rough, husky sound, and while they’ve been at this since your daddy was born, the roughness may be calculated, but it’s what you want to hear on authentic southern blues. Gasps of air break the lines in “High Road” but are absent on “Bridge to Heaven” — these sinners fit their vocal tricks to the song at hand and that keeps them interesting. I like the cuts without star power the best. While Willie and Hank 2 and the rest are undisputed stars, they bring that modern rock crossover sound and a slick production style that distracts. It’s a more saleable, radio-friendly sound, and it diminishes the impact of blues singers who have lived the life and stood the decades of abuse and rejection. Looks like I’ll have to start picking up their back catalog; I want to hear what these guys sounded like on scratchy postwar vinyl.

Saguaro Road: www.saguaroroad.com • Blind Boys of Alabama: www.blindboys.com

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Music Reviews

Buddy Miller

Buddy Miller

Midnight And Lonesome

Hightone

There’s a certain formula that goes into making a Buddy Miller record. And Midnight And Lonesome has all the ingredients you’d expect from this alt-country guitar picker who has worked with Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. But there are a few surprises along the way, as well.

First, kick things off with a familiar, upbeat cover tune. In this case, it’s The Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love.” If you know Buddy’s nasal vocal style, you can just imagine him singing the lines “Wine is sweet and gin is bitter / Drink all you can but you won’t forget her.”

Next, find an old soul tune to countrify (in this case Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”). Miller has more soul than 98 percent of the artists out there today. He also covers the Jesse Winchester tune “A Showman’s Life” and knocks it out of the park in the same way he did Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis” on his 1995 record, Your Love and Other Lies. Emmylou Harris guests on backing vocals as Miller sings, “A showman’s life is a smokey bar / And the fevered chase of a tiny star / It’s a hotel room and a lonely wife / From what I’ve seen of a showman’s life.”

Fortunately, Miller himself is seldom alone on the road. Wife Julie frequently shares the stage with him, and contributes tunes to the records as well. Here she offers the sweet ballad “I Can’t Get Over You” (with guest Lee Ann Womack), the swampy blues rocking title track, and the cajun fried “Oh Fait Pitie D’Amour (Love Have Mercy on Me),” among others. The pair also co-write cutesy, cornball odes to domesticity like this album’s fiddle-tinged, Hank Williams-like “Wild Card” and “Little Bitty Kiss.” “Water When the Well is Dry” is a great tune Buddy penned with Vigilantes Of Love leader Bill Mallonee. Miller plays harmonica on the track and drummer Brady Blade’s excellent skins work gooses things along.

The record’s biggest surprise may be “When It Comes to You,” which Buddy and Julie co-wrote with old pal Jim Lauderdale. It’s genuine old school, lo-fi soul music with a cheesy-sounding Optigan toy organ, a distorted vocal, and Al Perkins stellar pedal steel playing. “I got more than forty different grooves / And twice as many moves / I’ll be a cool rocking daddy that’s who,” Buddy sings.

Midnight And Lonesome ends with a late addition to the record. On the July day Miller wrapped up work on the disc, the miraculous rescue of nine miners in Pennsylvania was playing out on TV. Julie penned “Quecreek” in honor of the occasion, and the two recorded the song later that day. It’s a spiritual mountain ballad that deserves to become a standard. “And the miners were buried three nights and three days / But like Jesus Sunday morning all nine men were raised,” the Millers’ sing.

So if you’ve heard a Buddy Miller record before, Midnight And Lonesome will sound like an old friend. And if you haven’t, this one is a great introduction to an immensely talented singer-songwriter.

Hightone Records: http://www.hightone.com • Buddy and Julie Miller: http://www.buddyandjulie.com