Julie Miller feels like secret knowledge, and someone who have to know someone else first to meet. She’s a contemporary of musicians like Sam Phillips, Shawn Colvin and Victoria Williams, all of whom had far higher public profiles in their day. She’s written songs for or covered by some hugely prominent country musicians, including Lee Ann Womack and Emmylou Harris. She’s married to and musically collaborates with Buddy Miller, himself a bit of a secret weapon in country and Americana music. There are all these doors to find Julie Miller, you just have to walk through them.
My own door was through Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, on which Harris sings Miller’s “All My Tears.” Harris and producer Daniel Lanois turn the song into a haunted, gothic bit of gospel; you can almost hear the Spanish moss hanging off it. When, a few years later, Julie Miller released a new solo album (Broken Things), I was curious to hear what she herself sounded like, when not filtered through Emmylou Harris.
The answer: Not haunted, and not gothic, but still, really, really good. Miller’s voice is a plaintive tremolo, singing poetry, and in “Ride the Wind to Me” that poetry is of the “you’re shattered but you can get better” sort, in which Miller consoles a heartbroken friend, and promises more and better. “Someday your tears will turn to diamonds,” she sings, which is just one of several really excellent bits of lyricism Miller spins. The song is a healing spell, and whoever that heartbroken fellow is, if he’s not in love with Miller by the end of the song, the problem is with him, not her.
Miller is a gifted songwriter and is still at it; she and Buddy are still releasing albums together, and they’re quite fine. That said, Broken Things, released in 1999, is the last album under her name solely; I wouldn’t mind another from her. Having learned the secret knowledge of Julie Miller, I’d be happy to learn more.