Buddy and Julie Miller begin their new album—Written in Chalk (New West)—with a song pining for the past, for days when "if we ate, we had to grow it" and "all we could afford was laughter." It's a fitting statement for musicians who have always favored the simplicity of traditional American music idioms over anything reeking of technology or modern trends.
If that authenticity has always made them a little too country for Nashville, the husband and wife have picked a fine time to unveil their latest project. It's been almost eight years since they cut an album with both of their names on the cover (even though any Buddy or Julie album is really a Buddy and Julie album).
A typically personal project, crafted with homespun care and passion, Written in Chalk alternates between gritty, swaggering roots rock and Julie's bluesy ballads, but it's also a more expansive and eclectic set than anything else they've recorded. Julie's girlish vocals are adorned with cocktail piano and muted trumpet in the jazzy number "Long Time," and Buddy sings with Robert Plant in the tipsy, fiddle-driven blues gem "What You Gonna Do, Leroy." The couple has never been more winsomely sentimental than in the opener "Ellis County"; they've also never been as playful or flirty as in their rollicking, rocking ode to marital intimacy, "Gasoline and Matches."
Buddy (who plays guitar for Emmylou Harris's project Spyboy) and Julie include frequent faith references on the album—sometimes obvious ("Jesus come and save us from our sin," Buddy croons in "Chalk"), but often between the lines ("Love holds a seed of tragedy / You must lay down your life to live," from "Every Time We Say Goodbye"). They sing about heartache and hope, brokenness and betrayal. And when they are at their best—as they frequently are here—they do it better than just about anybody else.
Josh Hurst, who blogs at thehurstreview.wordpress.com
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Written in Chalk is available at Amazon.com and other retailers.
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