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Buddy Miller sends a prayer into a troubled world

By Brian Baker, November 2004

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"With the Louvin Brothers, I just wanted to do a song like that. That's a song that's been done a lot. I actually meant to have more country on there than I do, but I think it worked out okay."

With the parameters established, "House of Prayer's" perspective is strengthened with Miller's originals, almost all of them having been collaboratively written by Miller and a trio of co-writers - wife Julie Miller, country veteran Jim Lauderdale and folk chanteuse Victoria Williams.

From the loping country blues of "Shelter Me" to the blistering cautionary gospel blues of "Fall on the Rock" to the quirky folk country lilt of "This Old World" to the rootsy gospel workout of "Is That You," Miller has invested "House of Prayer" with powerful musical cross currents combined with equally weighty spiritual and social concerns scattered throughout the album's lyrics.

With so many different musical masters being served on "House of Prayer," it seems logical to infer that Miller was driven by the immediacy of inspiration to include so many distinct flavors in his recipe. But he's quick to point out that "House of Prayer" was neither conceived nor executed on a whim.

"I set out with this one sort of knowing what I wanted to do, more so than with my other records," says Miller. "With the other ones, I just had some songs, and I just tried to get them down very quickly. I tried to get these down quickly, but I knew there a few themes running parallel that I wanted to capture on the record. So I went in knowing a little more about what I wanted to accomplish with it."

Perhaps Miller's most important message on the album is found in its title, taken from the name of an actual but now defunct church located in east Nashville pictured on the album's cover.

Struck by the name's conveyance of religious inclusion rather than exclusion and an embracing and tolerance of all beliefs, Miller was convinced that the church's name and image were the perfect umbrella under which these songs could be collected.

"The picture is cropped a little bit; there are two faces on either side of it that I wish were on there because they actually look like people from all around the world," says Miller. "It's what I wanted to say, universal and united. It's not saying this is the right way, this is the wrong way."

The disc's theme of universality runs counter to the way that Buddy and Julie have been dismissed by both the contemporary country market and the contemporary Christian market (CCM). Miller admits that he knows very little about what happens in the Nashville scene and has no interest in pursuing his career on anything other than his own terms.

"Julie was involved in (CCM) a long time ago, but they didn't like her too much in that world, and we didn't do that many gigs, and we weren't very comfortable there," says Miller. "To me, it's almost as foreign as the country music scene in town. I don't really know what goes on with either one of them."

With "House of Prayer" out and an imminent tour to plan, Miller is busy on several fronts. He and Julie recently moved from their home of 11 years to brand new digs with a larger space and a better layout, which happened to be right across the street from their old home/studio. They were fairly deep into work on Julie's next solo album when her brother's tragic loss put a halt on the project.

As she moves through the grief, they get closer to the time when they can resume progress on it. Until then, the ongoing move brings results that are completely typical of Buddy and Julie Miller.

"The studio went in the first week. It's the rest of the stuff," says Miller with a weary laugh. "I feel like maybe we've moved what we really needed, and we should just burn the place down with the rest of the stuff in it. Or leave the doors open and let people come get what they want. It's right across the street so at 3 in the morning, I'm carrying chairs, and the neighbors think I'm nuts. It's bigger, and it's laid out a whole lot better for working. That was the main reason to move. That and the next door neighbor, who's 10, is Julie's best friend. They do little craft projects. The day that we moved in, they ran cup phones between the two houses."

Although "Universal United House of Prayer" turned out largely the way, Miller envisioned it and he is well pleased with its outcome, he graciously accepts a compliment on the album's unified nature with the admission that, after mixing it and beyond playing it live, he is done experiencing the album.

"I'll never listen to it, so I'll just believe you," Miller says with a laugh. "Maybe like five years later, I'll listen to it if I have to. Or if I'm in the room when it's playing at a record store. I try to get them to turn it off, but it kind of defeats the point. All I hear is what's wrong with it. I don't hear the good stuff; I don't like the sound of my voice, I hear what I didn't do right recording it or arranging it, so that's all I hear. I'd rather just live with the record that's in my mind."

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