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Buddy and Julie Miller

Written in Chalk – 2009 (New West)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Buddy and Julie Miller

This is the second record to come labeled as the work of Buddy and Julie Miller, following the first by eight years. But no matter whose name is printed on the cover, each of the Millers seems intimately involved in what's underneath it. Their latest collaboration is enriched by the contributions of Emmylou Harris and other friends. The bulk of the songwriting (8 of 12 songs) comes from Julie, and most of the songs display her ability to convey an almost unfathomable sadness, perhaps none more so than Don't Say Goodbye, on which Patty Griffin twines her harmonies with Julie's, and Hush, Sorrow, a pleading address to the song's titular emotion.

Desolation isn't the only mood, however. Gasoline and Matches is a raw, bluesy stomper about incendiary love that finds the couple engaging in some intense harmonizing and Buddy's guitar doing some flame-throwing of its own, and Smooth is a fantastic, six-minute gutbucket narrative that pulsates with a weird erotic fervor. Buddy and Robert Plant trade off exaggerated drawls on the Mel Tillis gem What You Gonna Do Leroy, the McCrary sisters add gospel intensity to a vintage Buddy Miller country-soul sound on One Part, Two Part, and Harris joins him for a resonating rendition of Leon Payne's classic The Selfishness of Man. "Written In Chalk" evidences a deep, powerful musical partnership that continues to bear many fruits.