Buddy and Julie Miller have been standing in the shadows of Nashville greats so long that were Nashville transported to the equator in a twist of time and fate, the Millers would never have to apply sun block. Buddy has played as part of the band for Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. Linda Ronstadt and the Dixie Chicks have recorded Julie’s songs. Buddy and Julie have rubbed shoulders raw with Nashville royalty.
The tables, however, have been turned.
On Written in Chalk, Julie and Buddy Miller get help from the friends they’ve made over the years playing second fiddle. Harris, Patty Griffin, and Robert Plant all lend their talents to the album. In listening it, the thought occurs, “Why didn’t the Millers do something like this a long time ago?” Well, the short answer is they have, both in 2004 and 2001. And so the question becomes, “Why haven’t more folks heard about them?”
It’s good to remember that some folks make music for the pure enjoyment of it. Fame and fortune don’t enter the equation. You can hear it on Chalk.
Country has had a bad name ever since it became synonymous with pop. Hank Williams has turned so many times in his grave he might as well be doing the Hokey-Pokey. Thus, when “Ellis Country” “takes us back” the Millers are building street cred. The song melts the walls of time and transports the listener back to a time when folks had “two mules instead of a tractor” and simple was the name of the game, and that was okay.
Simple, however, is not how you’d describe the production work on Chalk. The Millers have spent too much time in the studio previously to put a shabby record together. Details are key. The guitar tone on “Gasoline and Matches” is perfect for the song though I’m willing to bet it took hours to get just the right sound. That’s not to say the production sounds labored. It doesn’t. Good production never gets praised unless it is specifically being sought out. In fact, on my first listen, I didn’t even notice how intricate the mix on certain songs is.
Listen to the vocals on “The Sefishness of Man” as Buddy and Harris play it out together. When her part comes in, the two voices blend seamlessly. With voices so disparately different, such dueting must be melded expertly in the studio.
Upon picking up Written in Chalk and turning it over and opening it up, I expected a little dust to fall out of the cover. Authenticity of this caliber in music is rare. Conviction in song of this caliber too. The Millers may never be household names, but Written in Chalk never needed mass congratulation to be worthy of an ear. It simply is a good record by two talented people. Dust or no dust, listener or no listener alike. Music this pure holds inherent value.