A Personal History of Music, Day 28: “Ride the Wind to Me,” by Julie Miller

John Scalzi

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.

— JS

3 Comments on “A Personal History of Music, Day 28: “Ride the Wind to Me,” by Julie Miller”

  1. This reminds me a lot of my secret knowledge writer Lori McKenna. I imagine you’ve heard of her because you have a broad range in this area but few people in my circles have heard of her. She’s a singer-songwriter from Stoughton MA who writes a lot about small towns and the fears, desolation, and feelings of entrapment therein (or maybe that was mostly ‘Bittertown’, my favorite album of hers). I grew up in small town Northern California and this album really speaks to that.

  2. One of the other pieces on that album — the title track, which I slightly prefer to Our Host’s selection — was also covered by another of the 80s Village Folk Revival voices, Lucy Kaplansky (can’t remember which album).

    Miller’s biggest barrier to fame is her ardent lack of flashiness — one must actually put out the effort and actively listen, delve beneath the surface. This is not encouraged by the core of commercial country.

  3. Ooh, that’s a good tip on the Millers, thank you. Until today I only knew Buddy Miller from my favorite version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” which also features Brandi Carlile.

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