My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Buddy & Julie Miller – ‘Written In Chalk’

71NDevMXJnL._SX522_The first time I heard of Buddy Miller was when this 2009 collaboration with Julie was released. It wasn’t the best introduction; I didn’t particularly enjoy it and spent the next few years avoiding any more of Buddy’s music. Listening to it again for the first time in several years, I can report that I do appreciate it better now than I did back then, although I still consider it to be flawed in some respects.

Like the first Buddy & Julie collaboration, Written In Chalk is not a country album. It is eclectic in style, which probably appeals to Americana fans, but leaves a lot of gaps for those of us who want something more country-sounding. That being said, the more country-leaning songs are, for the most part, very well done.

Julie wrote eight of the album’s twelve songs, including the wonderful album opener “Ellis County”, which finds Buddy looking back nostalgically at a simpler, by-gone era. Julie provides harmony vocals. She also wrote the rockabilly “Gasoline and Matches”, which is catchy but light on lyrics.

“Don’t Say Goodbye” is a pretty, piano-led ballad on which Julie takes over the lead vocals – and herein lies the problem with this album: while Julie’s wonderful harmony does much to enhance Buddy’s performances, she is not my idea of a good lead singer. She fails to enunciate her words clearly and I find her voice grating at times. Though a bit dull, this is a song I might enjoy more if it were sung by someone else. The same problem plagues “LongTime” and “Everytime We Say Goodbye”.

“What You Gonna Do, Leroy” is one of four songs provided by outside songwriters. This is a Mel Tillis song, which was previously unfamiliar to me, performed as a duet with guest artist Robert Plant. It’s been given a bluesy treatment, along with plenty of fiddle. The percussion is a bit heavy-handed; this is a problem on several of the album’s tracks.

Not surprisingly, the album’s best moments are when the production is scaled back. Among the highlights are “Hush, Sorrow”, written by Julie and “One Part, Two Part” written by Dee Ervin. My absolute favorite is the closing cut “The Selfishness In Man”, featuring harmony vocals from Emmylou Harris. “Memphis Jane” is the album’s most annoying track.

Mixed bag though it might be, the good on Written In Chalk generally outweighs the bad – and the good moments are definitely worth listening to.

Grade: B –

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