Buddy Miller Closes Hall of Fame Residency with Old Friends Jim Lauderdale, Shawn Colvin, and Emmylou Harris
Artist in Residency
Country Music Hall of Fame
24 August 2010
Buddy Miller has in some ways had a quiet career, marked by humility and an excessive amount of plain dirt musicality. His songs… splintery 2x4s of undying love, the euphoria of falling, jagged erotic charge and heavenly salvation… have bored holes into the guts of roots music lovers, along with a coterie of musical legends who’ve enlisted his production, playing and writing skills that range from Robert Plant to Allison Moorer, Jimmie Dale Gilmore to Emmylou Harris, Solomon Burke to wife/co-writer Julie Miller.
For his final Artist in Residence evening at the Country Music Hall of Fame – one which found his parents and siblings in the audience – Miller eschewed the high-wire musicality of his opening night for a more family-feeling look into where he came from. With a stripped down band of Byron House on upright bass and Bryan Owings on drums, the man whose voice is as much sun-baked plywood and well-worn gravel as it is sun-dried sheets and broken-in flannel opted to focus on the getting… enlisting late-‘70s friends from New York City Shawn Colvin and Jim Lauderdale, and musical soulmate Emmylou Harris.
Sweeping the horizon with a raw take on the rising awareness of betrayal “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” the fedora-sporting musician threw back his head, mouth wide-open and moaned out like a soul in tormemt. How love could come to this is the torture to be exorcised, and in the quaking space between resonant electric guitar notes, the ache shattered around him.
It is that capacity to be consumed so seamlessly by whatever Miller sings of that is so staggering about the man who can gut a melody with his guitar – and know, in spite of his protestations “Just talk a lot and they won’t know it’s in the same key,” how to use music to weave nets of emotion. In Miller right hand, there are powerful forces of how people feel and what they realize, and that adds to the punch of the things he embraces to write and sing about.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Miller passed through combustive desire on the frenetic “Gasoline & Matches,” then hushedly brought dignity to impossible love with wife Julie’s composition “Written In Chalk.” As imposing as they first two songs were, it was the barely whispered, completely inhabited of never allowing the other person to truly understand the impact of the rejection, the level of their unknowing and the singer’s will to make sure the beloved stays that way that tore at listeners.
Not that everything with Miller is about emotional gutting… or catharsis.
Wearing an ice blue tuxedo jacket that was so elegant and old Vegas all at once, Miller explained it was a gift from old friend Jim Lauderdale, a man who grew up to write hit after hit for George Strait and Patty Loveless, but has followed a career path of prodigious eclecticism. With tales of the City Limits in New York City, an almost shared path to Nashville and a possum under the bed, their friendship emerged as every bit as magical a creation as the records Miller has created.
Joking about Lauderdale calling to tell him the Dixie Chicks were going to cut “Hole In My Head” and Miller’s response “Is that a good thing?.” The pair romped through the sardonic last thing I need romantic clipper with a rubber beat and a wink in their eye. The more old school “Hold On My Love” was given the luxurious feel of tavern ballads that’s an earmark of Lauderdale’s vintage country.
Like Lauderdale, who shared bands and stages at LA’s storied Palomino Club, Shawn Colvin shared the musical journeyman past with Miller. Having gone to see and shared bands with him in Austin, Texas and New York’s City Limits. Though the Grammy-winning Colvin is more of an adult progressive artist, she was more than happy to honor the roots of both Miller and her own gestative years by showering a handful of other people’s songs with her crystalline soprano.
With the opening “I’ve been throwing horseshoes… over my left shoulder…,” the songstress lovingly caressed Merle Haggard’s mid-career “That’s The Way Love Goes” with a feathery respect, while imbuing the old-time “Poison Love” with a jaunty bounce that was all rancor and gone.
Richard Thompson’s “Keep Your Distance” – which prompted Miller to tell the tale of getting the call from Colvin who was touring with the Brit guitar/writer icon that ended with “Nyah Nyah” – was a cautionary directive that bristled with all the complicated feelings that presage a mandate for something so over. Strong, clear and powerful, the two reprised the Millers’ version and offered a sense of how transmutable true vocalists are when in the service of great songs.
Knowing the ardor of Colvin’s fans, Miler requested one of her own songs – and she obliged with the shimmering “Diamond in the Rough,” from Steady On, her major label debut. With the embroidered acoustic playing and her voice taking on deeper undertones, the song retained the same freshness it had upon discovery two decades ago.
Introducing Harris as “all the good things that have to come to me have come through Emmy,” the pair waded into Miller’s “Wide River To Cross,” a quietly elegant gospel song that considers the trip to sanctity, the exhaustion of the soul embarking and the lightness waiting on the other side. Contemplative in an almost monastic sense, the reflection to be gained from the hearing is enough to drive many to renouncing their evil to begin the journey.
Then reprising their can’t-be-together lament of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s high-octane romp “Burning The Midnight Oil,” Miller reignited the notion that all is not heavy or somber. To be in – and of – this world is a balancing act between the profound and the profane, the glory and the agony, but mostly the willingness to engage.
To that end, it was a raucous rhythmed “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” that served as the encore’s benediction and closing moment of a three night stand at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theatre. In a series which saw Miller bring the McCrary Sisters, Patty Griffin, Tom T Hall, Lauderdale, Colvin and Harris to the service of music made for its own sake of goodness and rapture, it was a fitting close – the notion of finding respite, rebuking that which will ill us and still have enough combustibility to live life as one giant roman candle.