Buddy Miller: The Best of the Hightone Years

Buddy Miller live at the 2008 Americana Music Festival [Photo: Sarah Zupko]

A rather useful best-of for an artist who needs more exposure.

Buddy Miller

The Best of the Hightone Years

Label: Hightone
US Release Date: 2008-10-28
UK Release Date: 2008-10-27

It's certainly not accurate to call Buddy Miller an unknown artist. Sure, the mainstream public might greet his name with a resounding "Who?" (even though they've certainly heard some of his songs under the banners of LeeAnn Womack, Brooks & Dunn, or the Dixie Chicks). But any fan of Americana knows him as the outstanding, tasteful guitarist on records by folks like Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and Emmylou Harris. And then there's his solo work, six albums and counting of stinging guitar, lonesome vocals, and songwriting that manages to blend craftsmanlike precision with raw emotion.

His first five releases are the focus of The Best of the Hightone Years (Miller released his most recent disc, 2004's Universal House of Prayer, on New West). Any Miller disc is a fine starting point all on its own -- he's never really made a bad one -- but as compilations go, The Best of the Hightone Years does a pretty fine job. It doesn't hurt that Miller's never swung to and fro in terms of style, so his earliest cuts from 1995's Your Love and Other Lies sounds like they were always meant to sit beside songs from 2002's Midnight and Lonesome. This is a good thing, no doubt, since the collection presents everything in non-chronological fashion.

There are some fine songs here. "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" comes in on brooding, accusing guitar. Emmylou Harris sits in to supply vocals on "Cruel Moon" and "Don't Tell Me", while Jim Lauderdale helps out on "Don't Listen to the Wind". "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go" is just a barnburner, with Miller and his wife Julie practically howling at the moon while runaway percussion dominates.

In fact, one of the things that elevates this collection is the inclusion of four songs from the pair's collaboration, 2001's Grammy-nominated Buddy & Julie Miller. On the one hand, you could argue that most of the couple's solo discs have been Buddy & Julie Miller affairs, since Buddy acted as a bit of a one-man band on Julie's last two solo efforts, and Julie has often returned the favor by donating vocals to Buddy's records. But the Buddy and Julie Miller disc presented them both on equal footing and in full twangy flight, including fine covers of Utah Phillips's "Rock Salt and Nails" and Richard Thompson's "Keep Your Distance" (both included here). Plus, it's been nearly ten years since Julie Miller released a record of her own, so it's always nice to hear her singing.

With Miller's move to New West, The Best of the Hightone Years may very well be one of those time-honored contractual obligation releases, but it doesn't feel that way. For one thing, the material's uniformly strong, and it's a fun listen. For another, there probably needed to be a best-of from this artist who's all over the country/Americana landscape, but who might not get the attention he deserves.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.