The place where that amalgamation begins is in Miller's song selection. On "Midnight and Lonesome," Miller opted for a handful of co-writes (including "Water When the Well is Dry" with former Vigilantes of Love frontman Bill Mallonee, "Little Bitty Kiss" and "Wild Card" with Julie and "When It Comes to You" with Julie and Jim Lauderdale), a quartet of Julie's compositions (the title track, "I Can't Get Over You," "Oh Fait Pitie D'Amour" and the last minute addition of "Quecreek," inspired by the Pennsylvania mine rescue) and some inspired covers (the Everly Brothers' "The Price of Love," Jesse Winchester's "A Showman's Life" and Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love").
All of this is standard operating procedure for Miller, who is comfortable with collaborating or covering in favor of writing on his own.
"I don't consider myself a strong writer by myself, especially living with Julie, who I consider an incredible ' writer," says Miller. "I look at my strengths, and if I have three weeks to do a record, I'll beg her to write songs or to help finish ones I've got started or let me help her finish ones she's got started. We have a pretty good relationship in that regard."
Miller is also particularly happy with his work with Mallonee on "Water When the Well is Dry." Miller had long been a fan of the Vigilantes and was thrilled to produce the band's last album, 2000's "Audible Sigh."
When Miller ran into a snag with "Water," he gave Mallonee a call.
"For this whole last year, I had this track that I felt was saying something," says Miller. "I talked to Bill about it and kind of where I wanted it to go, and within hours, he faxed me over a bunch of lyrics, and it all fit together great. I think he's one of the best writers we've got."
Although "Midnight and Lonesome" doesn't represent a huge departure from Miller's previous catalog, it does offer some unique perspectives into his creative evolution. When it is offered that the midpoint placement of the lo-fi Optigan wonder of "When It Comes to You" seems to break the album into two separate sides, he is clearly pleased at the implication.
"I still wish you could turn 'em over," says Miller. "And I don't like long records. I remember when people started putting 10 or 11 songs on a record. It's overload. But I didn't really have anything different in mind, I just wanted to see where it would go. I had a set of songs in mind, and I wasn't sure how they'd end up and where it would all go. I didn't really have a big plan when I got started, other than I wanted to do a record."
The other obvious difference between "Midnight and Lonesome" and the rest of Miller's work is that the new album was recorded this past July, with the events of 9/11 fresh in his mind during the album's writing and recording. Although he insists that "Midnight" is not an attempt to address the issue, he admits that certain subtexts naturally crept into the process.
"I didn't want it to be that," says Miller of the idea of "Midnight" being his post-9/11 work. "There's two songs on the record that point to that, the Percy Mayfield song being one, and the song with Bill Mallonee being the other. But they're not specific. It's hard to go on with life just the way it was before. We've all lost something since then, and making a record is just part of that. This is where I am at this point in time, and I think it would be wrong to overlook it. I didn't want to write specific songs about it, but I wanted to have things that pointed to the world the way it is now."
If Miller gently gestures toward a new global perspective with "Please Send Me Someone to Love" and "Water When the Well is Dry," he trumpets the personal optimism that we all hope will prevail with "Midnight"'s final track, the dramatic musical casting of "Quecreek," written by Julie Miller almost immediately after last summer's rescue of the nine trapped coal miners in Pennsylvania.
Miller had actually wrapped work on the album when Julie came up with "Quecreek," and it seemed destined that it be included on "Midnight." It is a quiet rumination about faith in the face of adversity, and its hushed reverence forms the perfect closing statement for the album.
"Actually, the record was done, and Julie wrote that the morning they were rescued," recalls Miller. "We had finished the record, and the song was sitting on the mixing desk the next morning. And it was such a moving series of miracles and good news in what had been a rough year since September, that I felt like it should go on the record. We recorded it in a couple of hours and put it on the record. I think we needed something like that."
That may be the quality that most typifies Buddy Miller's recorded career to date. Regardless of the circumstances, he knows just what we need, when we need it.