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Jane Baxter Miller

Harm Among the Willows – 2010 (Bloodshot)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Jane Baxter Miller

Despite having appeared on several Bloodshot compilations since 1994, Jane Baxter Miller remains unfamiliar. With a full, expansive voice, Kentucky-native and Chicago-resident Miller delivers exquisite numbers of depth and density. The four-piece band's instrumentation is elaborate, close to the spirit, if not the sound of traditional country.

Kelly Willis is a useful reference point as the singers share a lilt housing just a sparkle of gloss. Similarly, comparisons to Rosie Flores, Maria McKee and even Patty Loveless are apt. This is Saturday night music for Sunday morning- it growls and saunters, but remains mindful of the repercussions of such flirtations.

The honky tonk welcome of Good Mornin' Moon sets the tempo. The bluesy quality of Swimming Up and especially the superbly titled He's So Happy (I Could Cry) shake things up. While the blues shades are apparent, they lead one to appreciate the hues of country - of Wanda Jackson, of Connie Smith, of Kay Adams - that permeate every aspect of the recording.

Many challenging arrangement choices are made - from the deep rumble of what sounds like bowed bass on Poison Sweet and the jazz-influenced bass of the title track to the inspiration that allows Fair and Tender Ladies to haunt River of Ghosts ("Through this house of tears runs a river of ghosts.")

Seeking the manufactured pop slung through modern country radio? Look elsewhere. "Harm Among the Willow" is modern Americana that resonates because it sounds genuinely connected to the people producing it.