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The breathless lives of Buddy & Julie Miller

By Jon Weisberger, October 2001

Page 2...

"I try to keep things simple. And if we do overdub, I try to keep it so it doesn't sound like a huge wall of production. Of course, sometimes if it gets a little late at night or I've had too much coffee, I might have a little more fun than I should, but I try to make it sound sort of like the house."

Miller's seen enough of major label studio recording to know exactly what the advantages are of recording at home. He and/or Julie have had cuts recorded by, among others, Brooks & Dunn, the Dixie Chicks and Lee Ann Womack she recorded two on the multi-platinum "I Hope You Dance" and one on her previous album, "Some Things I Know."

Buddy's also logged a considerable amount of time as a guitar player and harmony vocalist, appearing on albums by everyone from Lauderdale and Lucinda Williams to Womack (with whom Julie also sang), Trisha Yearwood and Rebecca Lynn Howard.

"In Nashville, the way it works is that a song demo gets made, and then they usually try to copy the demo for the record, which is sort of a strange way of going about it. And usually they don't make as good of a version on the record as they do on the demo."

"There's no excuse for that. Some of it is just laziness and no creativity, but then, too, you have a writer who really feels the song, who does a demo the way the song should be felt. And then you've got somebody else coming in who can't think of anything else, so they think well, that sounds good, let's do that."

"When Lee Ann Womack did something that Julie and I did together on one of my records ("Don't Tell Me" on "Some Things I Know"), they didn't lift the arrangements for those songs. She did two of our songs on her new record one song off Julie's record and one off mine and she kind of took them someplace else, which was great. I like to hear that, instead of hearing somebody copy lick for lick what's going on."

"But I don't really know how Americana artists can afford to make records. You don't really have a very big budget, and you can't afford to go into a studio unless you really know what you're doing and get in and out fast. There's really no time to experiment, no time for the creative process."

"It's easy to do those things here at the house. But I'm amazed at just some great records being made in the whole Americana genre, because I know a lot of those records are made on small budgets. Robbie Fulks' last record, that country one oh, man, that's one of my favorite records, and they cut that live. And it was just a great bunch of players who felt the songs."

"So, I try to help out my friends when they're making records, if they want me to work on stuff, or master it or do anything like that. And we make our records at home."

The home-grown approach produced an album with a markedly intimate feel, enhanced by the songs' stripped-down arrangements. The Millers worked with a group of friends that included drummers Blades and Bryan Owings, bassists Rick Plant, former E Street Band member Gary Tallent, Joey Spampinato and Byron House, fiddler Larry Campbell and keyboard player Phil Madeira, but reserved the vocals for themselves, except for a single guest appearance by Harris.

The result is an album of sturdy, straightforward textures, spotlighting Julie's compelling yet accessible songwriting talents and the duo's distinctive harmonies. Though they're modern, they're rooted in the kinds of music Buddy likes to listen to in what little time he has for it.

"I've been listening to stuff with scratches on it," he chuckles. "That's what usually ends up on my player. A lot of old blues, old bluegrass, just a lot of old music. But I listen probably more to old blues than anything else. Country blues and also old Chess Records stuff."

Those sounds find a reflection in songs like "Dirty Water," on which Pop Staples-like guitar vibrato underpins a bitter complaint to a lover. "Baby, you got the kind of love that I can't afford, and I don't have a taste for what's in that glass you poured," Julie sings in her distinctive voice, while a swampy groove propels the song forward.

The album's original songs, including the moving "Rachel," which commemorates the faith of one of the victims of the Columbine High School murders, are complemented by three different, yet equally well-chosen covers: Richard Thompson's "Keep Your Distance," Bob Dylan's "Wallflower" and U "Utah" Phillips' angry, mournful "Rock Salt And Nails."

"We just choose what we like," Buddy says. "We used to sing 'Keep Your Distance' or 'Wall Of Death' or one of those Richard Thompson songs, and I think somebody else is doing 'Wall Of Death,' so we figured, let's do 'Keep Your Distance.' It's a great song."

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