My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘Universal United House of Prayer’

410LpFPxXNLI’ve listened to this albums several times through, and in some respects I am still not quite sure what to make of it. It isn’t really a country album, although there are tracks that sound decidedly country, and it isn’t R&B, although some songs have an R&B feel.

Universal United House of Prayer is an album of religiously themed music, although certainly not in the same sense as the music of the Blackwood Brothers, Chuck Wagon Gang or the Swan Silvertones. It seems an odd choice for Buddy’s first release on the New West label yet it is completely appropriate in that it has always been difficult pigeonhole Buddy’s secular music, so why should his religious music be any different?

Most of the songs are good and most of the performances are solid, yet this album really didn’t square with my idea of religious music. I regard the whole as being less than the sum of the parts.

Buddy had a hand in writing seven of the eleven songs on the album, four of them co-writes with wife Julie, plus co-writes with Victoria Williams and Jim Lauderdale. Julie Miller wrote one song by herself.

The album opens with “Worry Too Much” was penned by the late Mark Heard. Heard was essentially a rock songwriter and Buddy sings this as a rock song. I would like this song better in different surroundings

It’s the demolition derby
It’s the sport of the hunt
Proud tribe in full war-dance
It’s the slow smile that the bully gives the runt

It’s the force of inertia
It’s the lack of constraint
It’s the children out playing in the rock garden
All dolled up in black hats and war paint

Fiddle and drum dominate the sound of the Louvin Brothers’ country gospel classic “There’s A Higher Power”. It’s not bad but it is not the Louvins; however, the Louvin Brothers lyrics are always worthwhile:

When burdens seem to overcome
(There’s a higher power)
Who’s faithful and refuses none
(There’s a higher power)

Then why ask men to help you through?
(There’s a higher power)
They’re helpless pilgrims just like you
(There’s a higher power)

Let’s sing it, shout it, walk it, talk it
(There’s a higher power)
Lay down your soul ’cause Jesus bought it
(There’s a higher power)

Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
(There’s a higher power)
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen
(There’s a higher power)

Buddy and Julie collaborated on “Shelter Me” with uplifting strong backing vocals by Regina and Ann McCrary. I regard this as the best of Buddy Miller’s songwriting contributions to this album

The earth can shake, the sky come down
The mountains all fall to the ground
But I will fear none of these things
Shelter me Lord, underneath your wings

Dark waters rise and thunders pound
The wheels of war are going round
And all the walls are crumbling
Shelter me Lord, underneath Your wings

Shelter me Lord)
(Shelter me Lord)
Hide me underneath Your wings
(Shelter me Lord)
Hide me deep inside Your heart

(Shelter me Lord)
In your refuge, cover me
The world can shake
But Lord, I’m making You my hiding place

Miller’s take on Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” runs nine minutes. Buddy’s vocals are strong and believable but a nine minute song is simply too long

The rest of the album plods along. All of the songs are good but nothing especially stands out for me. I am probably being unfair but the album wasn’t country enough for my tastes, Buddy’s guitar work was excellent throughout and the aforementioned McCrary Sisters (featured on nine of the tracks) are a real highlight with their almost ephemeral harmonies.

I would give this album a “B”. Folks more inclined to like rock or alt-country will probably rate it higher.

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