"Keeping the Blues Alive Award" Achievement for Blues on the Internet Presented by The Blues Foundation
Ever heard of OKOM? It stands for Our Kind Of Music, a modern-day version of the 'country outlaw' genre popular in the eighties (Willie, Waylon & the boys), yet it's not restricted to country. Its practitioners are today's troubadours, singer-songwriters whose critical acclaim will forever far outstrip commercial gain. Country's in there, to be sure, but so is folk and bluegrass and blues, all of which are amply apparent on Buddy Miller's "Midnight And Lonesome."
Buddy usually works with wife Julie, but for this outing he's chosen to step out alone; Julie's not far, though, as she gets writer or co-writer credit here on almost all the disc's originals and contributes vocals to a couple.
The disc opens with the Everly Brother's "The Price Of Love," a rocky number that Buddy's voice can't quite keep up to; much better are "Wild Card," very close to stone country, and the wistful "I Can't Get Over You." Both showcase the aching vulnerability at the heart of Buddy's (and to be true, much of OKOM's) sound. The title track could well be a John Hiatt outtake; unlike Mr. Hiatt, however, whose voice tends to sound better with exposure, Buddy's sounds strained, never crossing over into anything too terribly appealing. "When It Comes To You," with its burbly organ and processed vocals, has a vaguely Memphis-soul feel that works, but just barely. "Water When The Well Runs Dry" is another rootsy rocker with an irresistible hook (again, for comparison think John Hiatt), but this time Buddy sounds perfectly at home; it's followed by a genuinely gorgeous cover of Jesse Winchester's "Showman's Life," starkly confessional in a way that only comes from having lived the tale as Buddy obviously has. Guest Emmylou Harris' vocals harmony vocals sound even more heavenly than usual. "Little Bitty Kiss" could do well on crossover country charts but for it's unabashedly rustic interpretation; hand it to a bunch of slickers with hats and the crowds would love it; for those who prefer emotional honesty over production values, Buddy;s take will do just fine. Next it's another cover, this of the Percy Mayfield classic "Please Send Me Someone To Love." It's given a quietly effective acoustic reading, Buddy's guitar enjoying the exquisite support of Phil Madeira's moody B3. "Love Have Mercy On Me" (the disc's credits list it by its French title) is cajun two-step with a slight percussive twist that shows Buddy actually thinks about this stuff.
Things come to a close with "Quecreek," Julie Miller's ballad based on the true story of nine miners rescued after three days and nights underground. It's a timeless gem, sounding as though it could well have been written at virtually any time in the last two centuries.
The overall sound here is jangly electric over chiming acoustic guitars, with bits of fiddle, hints of harmonica for texture. Buddy's better at ballads than rockers; one plays to one's strengths, and Buddy's greatest asset is, paradoxically, his fragility. His voice is workmanlike at best on upbeat material, but approaches the sublime on songs of heartbreak; it's the sound of a soul laid utterly bare. Buddy sounds so much more at home on the desolate, windswept prairie than anywhere it's light, breezy, and warm.
Fans of OKOM will probably love most of this stuff. My take is half pretty good and worth checking out if not revisiting often, and half essential listening, the kind of music that somehow, no matter where you are, will make you remember the simple yet irresistible attractions of a campfire.
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