(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Buddy Miller has occupied
a special place in the country music world for several years. As the heir to such stellar pickers as Gram Parsons, Rodney
Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Herb Pedersen and Jon Randall, he's been Emmylou Harris' right hand man and lead guitarist for several
tours and albums.
With his wife Julie and on his own, he's written a number of staggeringly good songs and recorded
a handful of influential and lasting CDs -- cut for the most part in his living room. And he's an acclaimed producer, engineer
and record masterer -- not to mention being one of the best guitar players anywhere. He's also emerged as a quiet spiritual
force and influence in the Nashville community and within the music community at large. And Steve Earle recently told CMT.com,
"I think Buddy's the greatest country singer alive. I really do believe that." Not too shabby a compliment, that.
Miller has recorded a not-so-quiet little gem of a country gospel album, Universal United House of Prayer (New West).
Miller's previous recorded work touches frequently on matters of spirituality, especially in such moving songs as "Sometimes
I Cry" on Cruel Moon, "100 Million Little Bombs" from Poison Love and "That's Just How She Cries" on Buddy
& Julie Miller.
Miller is working his own corner of country music, an Americana-tinged country, with healthy dustings
of blues, rock, both black and white gospel music and a vivid sense of musical history.
This is his first full-blown
gospel foray. All but three of the 11 songs are Buddy-Julie Miller compositions, singly and jointly or with Jim Lauderdale
and Victoria Williams. With backing vocals throughout the album from Fairfield Four founder Sam McCrary's daughters Regina
and Ann McCrary, and occasionally by Harris, Lauderdale and Julie, Miller fully plumbs the depths of faith and loss, of war
and peace, of good and evil. The album opens full-bore with Miller raging through "Worry Too Much" by Mark Heard, a singer-songwriter
who died in 1992. It begins with what seems to be an observation on current events: It's the demolition derby/It's the
sport of the hunt/Proud tribe in full war dance/It's the slow smile the bully gives the runt. It goes on to lament the
legacy of war: It's the quick-step march of history/The vanity of nations/It's the way there'll be no muffled drums/To
mark the passage of my generation.
Ira and Charlie Louvin's "There's a Higher Power" also address man's folly and
God's redemption: Go tell them people lost in sin/There's a higher power/They need not fear the works of men/There's a
Of the original Miller compositions here, "Shelter Me" is most moving: The earth can shake, the
sky come down/The mountains all fall to the ground/But I will fear none of these things/Shelter me Lord underneath your wings.
the raging volcano on the album is a nine-minute-plus version of Bob Dylan's "With God on Our Side." Miller sings it with
a weariness born out of sorrow, but the song escalates in tempo and volume until his guitar is raging mad and driving his
vocals, and the words fairly leap out of the speakers and grab you by the throat. Dylan wrote it in 1963 when the Vietnamese
war was escalating into the quagmire it became, but it pretty much applies to any wars in progress. So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as hell/The confusion I'm feelin' ain't no tongue can tell/The words fill my head and fall to the floor/If God's
on our side he'll stop the next war. The words alone cannot conjure up the majesty and the fury in Miller's delivery.
you don't know the song, it's a short history of America's wars, told by a populist Everyman, and the central notion is the
concept that America has always had God on its side -- no matter what the conflict. The Puritans believed that if America
followed God, the nation would be, in John Winthrop's words, a "shining city set upon a hill for all the world to see." Winthrop,
the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, set the agenda in his 1630 sermon for the "City on a Hill" allegory that America
adopted as a nation blessed by God and divinely ordained to succeed and grow. But Winthrop also warned, "The eyes of all people
are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his
present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world: We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak
evil of the ways of God and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and
cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us, till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going."
himself returns to war in "This Old World" (composed with his wife): Shake my head and wonder how much more/The bells are
tolling on the streets of the world/What time is it, help me understand/Why is war in the heart of man. The album concludes
with a hidden track, a short a cappella version by Julie Miller of "The Royal Telephone," the old gospel song: Telephone
to glory, O what joy divine/I can feel the current moving on the line/Built by God the Father for His blessed own/When you
get in trouble call Jesus on the royal telephone.