There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Buddy Miller makes music as unpretentious as the gimme caps he wears, and his no-nonsense ethos as a performer, writer, and producer has served him well over the past four decades. Best known as an Emmylou Harris sideman, he’s also had his songs covered by the Dixie Chicks and Hank Williams III and released three previous solo albums—as well as a 2001 duo album with wife Julie Miller that got the attention of the Grammy nominators. So though the use of an Optigan is rather surprising on Miller’s new Midnight and Lonesome, it’s also about as gimmicky as the disc gets. The vintage Mattel sampler provides a funky underpinning to “When It Comes to You,” as Miller and steel guitarist Al Perkins overlay its synthetic organ-and-tambourine riff with bright string play and the low-hung rumble of a Taurus II bass pedal. Unusual, sure. Complex, no. The venerable Miller never sounds as if he has something to prove, and it helps that he’s got a sympathetic songwriter in his own household: Julie, who also provides plaintive backing vocals on much of Midnight, penned a delicate love song (“I Can’t Get Over You”), a Cajun romp (“Oh Fait Pitie d’Amour (Love Have Mercy on Me)”), and a straight-from-CNN gospel tune about the rescued Pennsylvania miners (“Quecreek”) with equal credibility. The Millers teamed up to write the faux-Everlys “Little Bitty Kiss” and the sawdust-floor shuffle “Wild Card,” but the man also knows how to pick covers, including a seldom-heard Phil & Don song (“The Price of Love”) and Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” and tailor them perfectly to his approach. Throughout, Miller’s raspy Everyman voice—think John Hiatt with a tad more testosterone—and confident, soulful guitar unify what might have been a sonic flea market. If the result isn’t as stunning as Buddy and Julie Miller, it’s nevertheless deeply satisfying, cohesive, and built for the ages. And, of course, sincere: Faced with the couplet “Wine is sweet and gin is bitter/Drink all you can but you won’t forget her,” Miller isn’t tempted for a second to force that rhyme into “forgit.” —Pamela Murray Winters