"Breakdown on 20th Ave. South is significant in a number of ways. For starters, it marks Julie Miller's return to making music after an absence of 10 years. For another, it finds her collaborating once again with her ever prolific husband Buddy Miller, a man who's spent the last several years plying his craft as a bandleader, producer and helmsman for other artists. The two frequently worked together in the past, but this marks their first collaborative project in a decade and the first outing bearing Buddy's name in over eight years
Not surprisingly, Buddy contributes the majority of the instrumentation, but Julie is the one who provides the overall presence. She wrote all of the songs with the exception of "Storm of Kisses," which was written with her nephew Alasdair MacKenzie in memory of his father and her brother who fell victim to a random lightning strike. Like the rest of the album, it's haunting and subdued, a thoughtful reflection on solace and spirituality. So too, the Millers harmonize on several of the songs, likening many of the offerings to hypnotic chants, steady yet assertive all at the same time. Along with the mournful strains bemoaning love and loss, Miller contemplates weightier matters as well, turning songs such as "Feast of the Dead," "War Child," and "Till the Stardust Comes Apart" into contemplative hymns imbued with spiritual suggestion.
Those meditative musings take an emphatic turn with the descriptively titled "Thoughts At 2 AM," a track that brings to mind an old Dylan protest anthem borne from steadfast resolve. It adds some much needed propulsion within its emphatic prose: "You render your oppressors silent with your wordless eyes/You own the life of every man from birth until he dies." It appears to be a paean to God, but not in any reverential sense. Rather, it chastises God for apparent indifference to the suffering of humanity and all who worship.
In that sense, "Breakdown on 20th Ave. South" conveys a stoic sensibility, and while the sound may be hushed, the references resonate throughout. A sterling comeback, "Breakdown on 20th Ave. South" is a potent offering that binds destiny with determination.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His new book - "Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound" - is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.