There was a time when I anxiously awaited the impending arrival of a new Neil Young release, knowing it would not only impact my life, but that it would speak to me on a level of depth somewhere between religious, familial, and primordial-in other words, scary personal.
That place is now reserved for Buddy and Julie Miller, and ‘Written In Chalk’ (only the 2nd release credited to the two as a pair) does not disappoint. As Grant Alden points out in his superb liner notes, it’s Julie’s words, but it’s them.
They have a way of peeling away your defenses, your cynicism, and allowing you to open yourself to receive these blessings knowing you’re safe, because their songs speak with truth-truth that’s been burnished by fire.
I received this cd months ago, but I knew I had to wait for the right time to listen. Reviewing for a website (as opposed to print, where you’ve got deadlines-and without pay I might add) allows a bit of freedom. Thankfully there are still artists who create a piece of music as a ‘whole’, meant to be given one’s complete attention, and listened to as such. And as such, a discerning listener doesn’t simply ‘pop on’ any cd any time of any day. Well, today was the right day.
Every detail of ‘Written In Chalk’ has been given utmost thought-from the old school ‘photo album’ texture and design of the jacket inside and out, to the photos and text, and of course most importantly the music. Which doesn’t mean it’s been meticulously over-produced-that’s not Buddy’s style, and we love him for it. Everything is right where it’s supposed to be, but very much alive-no Pro Tools overkill here (heck, probably none at all!), just seasoned friends ‘feeling it’. Friends including Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffin, Larry Campbell, and Robert Plant-on a track recorded in the dressing room prior to a gig on the tour for ‘Raising Sand’. Buddy’s a busy and in-demand guy, and his own releases often take a back seat while he’s making other folks sound so good. But one gets the feeling this record came together just as it was supposed to, and not a minute too soon or too late.
There’s pain in these songs (‘Long Time’, ‘Chalk’, ‘Hush, Sorrow’) and loss (‘Don’t Say Goodbye’, ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’, ‘June’, written and recorded the night June Carter Cash passed away) and yearning (‘Ellis County’)-‘write what you know’, the saying goes-but there’s never hopelessness. Julie’s deep faith is too strong to allow despair to seep in, but there’s also an inherent joy that’s almost palpable-the joy that comes from writing and recording songs in a place you feel comfortable in, with the people you love. There’s life in these songs, and all that goes with it.
Personally, I’d call ‘Written In Chalk’ a masterpiece-but what do I know-I’m no critic-just a guy who’s been listening to music for half a century, writing and performing for decades, and who wishes he had one album of his own that could stand up to the Buddy Miller ‘seal of approval’ as Emmylou so aptly puts it.
Find yourself a copy of this cd, bring it home, and sit down and listen from start to finish with no distractions-when the time is right, of course.