Simply Good Music

With Victoria Williams, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle.

Perhaps the most difficult part of discussing Julie Miller's breathtaking new

album, Broken Things, is facing the realization that in these

niche-programmed, categorize-or-die times, her style of music simply

reaches across too many barriers to "fit" in any one particular place

— unless, of course, you count that little spot in the corner marked

simply "good music." A singer/ songwriter whose words and melodies

smolder with dark, spiritual passion and whose voice could melt an

iceberg, Miller and her husband/ partner, guitarist Buddy Miller, have

spent most of this decade treading the terrain between rock, folk and

country with a disarming lack of self-consciousness reminiscent of (if

one needs such reference points) Neil Young in his earliest solo days.

Acoustic, electric, plugged, unplugged — the Millers just do it,

and it's that precise, ego-submerging, no-big-deal eclecticism that makes

their music sound so organic and so refreshingly pure.

Like Miller's last album, Blue Pony (1997), Broken Things

is filled with an overriding sense of bittersweetness that — with

the recurrent images of rivers ("I Know Why the River Runs"), rain

("Out in the Rain") and tears ("I Still Cry" [RealAudio

excerpt], "All My Tears") that course through many of the songs here — give the album an almost

concept-like tone. Significantly, though, the emotional heaviness of the

lyrics is continually counterbalanced by the shimmering music (especially

Buddy Miller's guitar work) and the duo's bright vocal harmonies. This

is no more apparent than in "Out in the Rain" (RealAudio

excerpt), which features a Tom Petty-like guitar/ organ-based

arrangement and an infectious chorus that belies the song's heartbroken

words ("The rain just coming down now wild and uncontrolled ... tonight

the sky will not be consoled"); and in "I Still Cry," a stark ballad

about the acceptance of loss and pain, which features a drop-dead gorgeous

melody that seems to lift the whole song toward the heavens.

The album also sports a number of spirited guest vocal turns by the likes

of Patti Griffin ("I Still Cry"), Victoria Williams ("Orphan Train"),

Steve Earle ("Strange Lover") and Emmylou Harris, who duets with Miller

on the Civil War folk song "Two Soldiers" (RealAudio

excerpt). Suffice it to say that you can tell from the list of the company Julie

Miller keeps here what her peers think about her. And, once you hear

this haunting album, you may well think the same way, too.