My Kind of Country

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

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Album Review: Buddy Miller and Friends – ‘Cayamo Sessions At Sea’

cayamo sessions at seaBuddy Miller’s latest project comprises a series of collaborations with other artists recorded between 2012 and 2015 on the cruise ship Cayamo, as part of a music festival the ship puts on annually. The eclectic selection of artists tackle some classic country songs, with the odd outlier given a country arrangement, and the result is a joy to listen to from start to finish. Buddy does an excellent job producing, and sings either harmonies or duet vocals on each track.

The album opens with a tremendous version of the classic duet ‘After The Fire Is Gone’, performed with the always wonderful Lee Ann Womack. Kacey Musgraves is charming on Buck Owens’ upbeat ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here Again’. I also enjoyed the duet with the underrated Elizabeth Cook on ‘If Teardrops Were Pennies’.

Kris Kristofferson sings his own ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’, and sounds more controlled vocally than he usually does live. Lucinda Williams, another singer who can be unpredictable, is intensely emotional on a slow, measured version of ‘Hickory Wind’. The legendary British folk singer, Richard Thompson, has a longstanding love of traditional country music, and he sings Hank Williams’ somber ‘Wedding Bells’. Doug Seegers, an equally towering figure of American folk, joins Buddy for the gospel number ‘Take The Hand Of Jesus’.

Nikki Lane, whose music I had not heard previously, is soulful on ‘Just Someone I Used To Know’. Another unfamiliar name, Jill Andrews sings ‘Come Early Morning’ charmingly, duetting with Buddy.

Singer songwriter Shawn Colvin tackles the Rolling Stones’ most country-sounding song, the wistful ballad ‘Wild Horses’, to beautiful effect. Brandi Carlile, who falls somewhere in between alt-country and folk-rock, is joined by the Americana band The Lone Bellow for ‘Angel From Montgomery’. If this is my least favourite track, this is only because it is merely very, very good, and everything else is even better.

This is a superb album, which is my favorite of everything Buddy Miller has recorded. It is highly recommended.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Buddy Miller – ‘The Majestic Silver Strings’

MajesticSilverStrings-AmazonReleased in 2011, The Majestic Silver Strings finds Buddy Miller teaming up with guitarists Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz for an album combined mostly of classic country covers. The group is joined by a slew of guest vocalists along the way.

Much as I suspected, the record is a guitar-based album comprised of instrumentals with the guest artists providing the vocals. There are, however, a few such instrumentals sprinkled throughout. The album opens with a haunting take on Eddy Arnold’s “Cattle Call.” The band strips the tune of its western themes, which is a bit odd but otherwise excellent. “Freight Train” is jauntier and just as sonically appealing.

Lee Ann Womack joins the group on two tracks. “Meds” is a dark ballad about a woman in a mental institution that renders Womack, who sings in a breathy tone, almost unrecognizable. “Return To Me” features a long instrumental opening before Womack begins with an aching vocal.

Ribot takes the reins on three tracks. “Barres De La Prison,” a prodding ballad he doesn’t elevate with his dreary, but appropriate, vocal. The group turns “Why Baby Why” into 1950s rockabilly funk, which comes off slightly jarring. For his third contribution, Ribot tackles “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.” This track is also extremely slow and very difficult to get into.

Ann McCrary joins the group on “No Good Lover,” a jazzy number with Western Swing undertones. Chocolate Genius fronts “Dang Me,” which is one of the stronger tracks on the project. Although I do find it weird, they find the sinister side of the song Roger Miller didn’t even hint at with his original recording.

Patty Griffin joins the band on “I Want to Be with You Always,” a brilliant recording that finds her harmonizing with Miller6a00d8341c630a53ef014e5fa47bba970c framed in Pedal Steel. Shawn Colvin takes the lead on “That’s The Way Love Goes.” The Merle Haggard standard is turned into a sparse ballad that beautifully allows her voice to shine through.

“Why I’m Walkin’” is yet another ballad, this time fronted by Emmylou Harris. The track is very slow and isn’t helped by Harris’ far too breathy vocal. The final track, “God’s Wing’ed House” spotlights Miller’s wife Julie. It’s actually a duet between the pair and it’s lovely.

To say the least, I didn’t enjoy this album. I adore the concept and found a couple of the tracks appealing, but it just didn’t do much for me overall. The jazzy overtones that complete the sonic makeup of the record just aren’t to my taste at all. I still think you should seek out your own opinion as it could differ greatly from mine. This isn’t a terrible album in the least and I can see the quality within it. But it just wasn’t for me.

Grade: B-

 

Spotlight Artist: Buddy Miller

buddy millerAnyone whose resume’ includes a spell leading Emmylou Harris’s backing band is going to be a great musician (just think of alumni like Rodney Crowell and Ricky Skaggs), and this month’s spotlight artist is no exception. Born in Ohio in 1952, where his father was serving in the Air Force, Steven “Buddy” Miller was raised in New Jersey, where he started out playing stand-up bass in his high school bluegrass band. He is now best known for his brilliant guitar playing – and, of course, for his songwriting and production, as well as being an artist in his own right.

He met future wife and musical partner Julie Griffin (born in 1956) in Austin, Texas, in 1975 when he joined Rick Stein & the Alleycats, a band of which she was a member (she was a dissenting voice). They subsequently moved together to New York and formed the Buddy Miller Band. Julie’s personal journey led her to leave the band (in which she was replaced by singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin), and she returned to Texas. Buddy followed her, and he and Julie married in 1981, and lived for periods in Texas, Seattle and California before eventually settling in Nashville in 1993.

streetlightJulie was now set on a career in Christian music. The band Streetlight, which featured Buddy, Julie and one other man, released a six-track Christian contemporary EP in 1983 for the Sparrow label. Julie, a distinctive vocalist and excellent songwriter, began making solo records in 1990, still as a Christian artist. Her solo career slowed after she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, with no new solo recordings since 1999, but she has continued to work with Buddy, and they have recorded several duet albums.

Buddy and Julie found congenial musical company in Nashville, and their songs have been covered by many country, Americana and other artists. Buddy found work playing on sessions, and discovered a gift for producing. He has built a recording studio in his Nashville home, and has been acclaimed for his production work on records by Allison Moorer, Patty Griffin, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, soul singer Solomon Burke, and Ralph Stanley. He served as music director for the second and third seasons of the TV drama Nashville.

In c.1995 Buddy became the guitar player for Spyboy, the trio Emmylou formed to support her tour promoting her Wrecking Ball album, and he stayed with her for eight years. He has also toured in the bands of Steve Earle, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. In 2008-9 he took front stage alongside Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin on the Three Girls And Their Buddy tour, interrupted by a heart attack from his fortunately made a full recovery.

Alongside his sidesman and studio duties, Buddy began recording his own music in 1995 with Your Love And Other Lies. He has interspersed solo records with duet projects with wife Julie, and one with old friend Jim Lauderdale. Buddy’s latest project, Cayamo Sessions At Sea, was released last Friday, with a host of guest stars, and we are delighted to be spending February focussing on his music here.

Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – A Place In The World

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s sixth album, A Place In The World, released in October of 1996, charted at #3 on the Country Albums chart and at #20 on Billboard’s 200 following two of her most successful albums, Come On Come On and Stones In The Road. Mary Chapin penned all the songs and co-produced the album with John Jennings as well. However, I wonder if its chart success wasn’t a direct result of the success of those previous two albums rather than the overall quality of the album itself. There are some good, and even great, songs on this album, but there are also some that don’t quite measure up to the standard Carpenter sets on her previous records.

Four singles made it onto the charts, though they are far from the best songs on the album. ‘Let Me Into Your Heart’ was the first one and almost broke the top ten in the U.S., coming in at #11. It made it all the way to #5 in Canada. Catchy, rhythmic, upbeat, with brass and back-up singers, it has a Motown soul feel to it instead of Country. But I found it unusual that none of the lyrics really grabbed me — one of the few MCC songs that I can say that about. The unremarkable last chorus is an example:

You’re like a sweet smile to these tired eyes
You’re like the last mile on a long ride
Oh I never believed in the arms of fate
But to be in yours darling, I believe I’d wait
‘Til the end of time for a chance to start
If you’d just let me into your heart

Second to chart was ‘I Want To Be Your Girlfriend’. It only made it to #35. It’s another up-tempo number but with somewhat better lyrics and a bit of humor about how a crush feels like a crush even when you’re no longer a teenager:

You used to be just this guy I knew from that same old scene
For all the time that I’ve known you, just now I’m noticing
That everything there is to feel, feels worse than any teenage crush
And all the times that I’ve been near you, now I can’t get near enough

Someone described it as “bubblegum pop” in a 60s style which fits that teenage crush mood. Fun song, but back-to-back, light, up-tempo numbers without a lot of meat to them must not have worked after the stellar hits of the previous couple years. Carpenter’s momentum on the charts began to wane.

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Album Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Shooting Straight In The Dark’

Mary Chapin Carpenter’s third album was released in 1990, and gave her a real breakthrough. Produced with longterm collaborator John Jennings, the record saw her draw on a wide variety of influences. The material (all written by Carpenter herself) is a mixture of slow songs showcasing the velvety texture of her voice, and more commercial up-tempo numbers. It is far from traditional country with fiddle on just two tracks and steel conspicuous only by its complete absence, but it is one of her best records.

The intense lead single ‘You Win Again’ reached #16, peaking in 1991. It’s one of my favorite MCC songs, a despairing mid-tempo tale of a woman in love but aware she is in a losing situation:

I’ve been holding my breath just wondering when
You’ll make some kind of decision
To let me in or let me go
I’ll always lose if I never know
Where I fit in
Baby you win again

The insistently bluesy rock ‘n roll cover ‘Right Now’ followed it to radio and did about as well, reaching #15. The third single, though, was Mary’s biggest hit to date. The irresistible Cajun-styled ‘Down At the Twist And Shout’, featuring Cajun band BeauSoleil, just missed the top spot, peaking at #2, and won the singer her first Grammy. Atypical of most of the artist’s work, it is one of her best remembered songs and a sheer delight.

The final single, the measured ‘Going Out Tonight’, written with John Jennings, was less successful, making #14. It is a well-written song with a sultry vocal about a woman “going out tonight to find myself a friend” in the aftermath of a failed relationship.

My personal favorite track is the charming story song ‘Halley Came To Jackson’ about a family watching Halley’s Comet in 1910, and the baby seeing it again as an old woman 76 years later from the same back porch in Jackson. Tasteful fiddle and dulcimer from Mark O’Connor and John McCutcheon respectively underpin the pretty melody, and the Desert Rose Band’s Herb Pedersen sings backing vocals on the album’s loveliest (and most country) moment. The story was inspired by the life of novelist Eudora Welty, and was adapted some years later into an illustrated children’s book. It is still one of my favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs.

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