My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Utah Phillips

Album Review: Buddy and Julie Miller – ‘Buddy and Julie Miller’

buddyandjulielargeIt took Buddy Miller six years and four studio albums before he made a proper duo record with his wife Julie. Released in 2001 on HighTone Records, Buddy and Julie Miller was the inaugural Album of the Year at the Americana Music Awards.

The album features cover songs composed by folk/rock legends as well as original material. They open with an excellent take on Richard Thompson’s “Keep Your Distance,” which I came to know four years later through Patty Loveless. I also enjoyed their beautiful rendition of the Utah Phillips classic “Rock, Salt, Nails,” a song I hadn’t heard before. They unfortunately misstep with Bob Dylan’s “Wallflower.” The duo turned a simple country song into a loud mess.

Julie solely composed the remainder of the album, save one song. “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast” is pure aggressive rock & roll, with Julie’s distinctive voice leading the way. The similarly uptempo “Rachael” is much more tasteful and falls within the appealing sonic vein of “Keep Your Distance.”

“Forever Has Come to an End” is a stunning country ballad about a guy lamenting the end of his marriage. They forgo the fiddle and steel, but the aching sincerity of the lyric perfectly shines through. “That’s Just How She Cries” is a strong lyric, but the arraignment is missing the flavor necessary to give it appealing texture. The same blandness mares “Holding Up The Sky.” The track prominently features an acoustic guitar that doesn’t really do anything to elevate the song in any significant way.

My trouble with Buddy and Julie Miller lies in the simple fact it isn’t a country album at all. I certainly see the quality in the songs, but the arrangements significantly hold me back from truly enjoying the album as a whole. But I did love “Forever Has Come to an End” and their cover of “Keep Your Distance” was very, very good.

There just isn’t much else that was truly appealing to my ears. Does that make Buddy and Julie Miller a bad album? Not in the least. Although it isn’t my personal taste, I can still clearly see why it’s been so lauded. I recommend seeking it out in order for you to make your own judgments.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town’

Emmylou’s fourth album was released in January 1978 on Warner Brothers, which had taken over her contract from the subsidiary Reprise. A personal favorite of mine, it contains a number of her classic recordings. The lineup marks the replacement of Rodney Crowell in the Hot Band by Ricky Skaggs, with both men playing on the record. The arrangements and musicians are, as usual, impeccable. There was a change of emphasis with the selection of material, with no classic revivals this time (although a number of the tracks have become classics in their own right since), but a concentration on new songs.  The quality of material is as high as Emmylou’s fans had come to expect. Emmylou was now married to producer Brian Ahern, and their personal and professional partnership showed them in perfect tune. Ironically, given her newlywed status, the overarching theme is one of leaving, whether that means a lover or spouse, a parent, or life itself.

One of the classics born on this record was the first single. ‘To Daddy’ was written by Dolly Parton, who generously relinquished the opportunity to sing the song to her friend, not recording it herself for many years. Emmylou’s subtle version was a big hit, reaching #3. The devastating lyric tells the story of a downtrodden wife and mother who suffers silently for years with her neglectful and uncaring husband, and then leaves with as little fuss as she made during the marriage:

She never meant to come back home
If she did, she never did say so to Daddy

Told from the viewpoint of one of the children, Emmylou delivers one of her purest vocals, allowing the lyrics to speak for themselves. This is still one of my favorite Emmylou Harris recordings. It was followed on the charts by the #1 hit ‘Two More Bottles Of Wine’, an up-tempo rocking-blues Delbert McClinton song which offers a defiant response to loneliness and a lover’s departure:

It’s alright cause it’s midnight and I got two more bottles of wine

Another song now widely (and rightly) regarded as a classic, the poetic ‘Easy From Now On’, written by Guy Clark’s wife Susanna and a young Carlene Carter (billed by her first married name of Routh), peaked at #12. Emmylou sounds a little sad as she plans to drink the night away following the end of a relationship. The lyrics provide the album’s title, and Susanna Clark also painted the picture used for the cover art.

Rodney Crowell, about to leave the Hot Band to launch his own solo career, contributed a couple of songs as a parting gift. There are Cajun touches to the story song ‘Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight , which was later a hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. Rick Danko of The Band sings harmony and his bandmate Garth Hudson plays sax and accordion. The driving ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’ is a hard-boiled country rocker addressed to a low-life individual headed for life in jail, and Rodney’s own version was to be the title track of his debut album later the same year, also on Warner Brothers.

Willie Nelson sings a prominent harmony on the folky ‘One Paper Kid’, a downbeat story about another of life’s failures, set to an attractive tune and a very simple acoustic backing consisting of Mickey Raphael’s harmonica and Emmylou herself on guitar. The pair had toured together, and their voices blend beautifully on another highlight.

The tribute to the ‘Green Rolling Hills’ of West Virginia, written by folk singer Utah Phillips, is sung as a duet with Emmylou’s longtime harmony singer Fayssoux Starling, which sounds just lovely. Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell’s replacement in the Hot Band, plays fiddle and viola on this track, foreshadowing the changes his influence was to bring in Emmylou’s music.

Singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester contributed two songs, the beautiful and perhaps metaphorical ballad ‘My Songbird’ and the swooping and allusive ‘Defying Gravity’, with Nicolette Larson on harmony. The album closes with the slowed down bluesy rockabilly of ‘Burn That Candle’, which is the only track I don’t much like, with some very odd emphases in the pronunciation.

The 2004 CD reissue included two previously unreleased live cuts from the early 80s with a Cajun flavor – Guy Clark’s ‘New Cut Road’ and ‘Lacassine Special’ (sung in French). They are well performed, but feel a little out of place here.

Grade: A