Artist: Buddy Miller & Friends
Album: Cayamo Sessions at Sea
Label: New West Records
Release Date: 01/29/2016
If Buddy Miller ran for election, he could become Mayor of Nashville, as he has become a magnet for projects involving multiple artists. Buddy built his unassailable reputation first as guitarist for Jim Lauderdale, Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris, and then as a songwriter and solo artist who gave us those great releases like Poison Love, Your Love and Other Lies, and Written in Chalk, to name a few. Since 2009, however, he’s moved on to a producer/collaborator while continuing his sideman role, notably with Robert Plant. Throughout, he has been outstanding in aggregating talent, in much the way he leads his all-star band in the Americana Music Awards. In fact, this CD project features practically the same backing band that we heard on 2015’s Award show. Unlike his previous effort, The Silver Majestic Strings, which featured highly inventive interpretations of such classics as “Dang Me” and “Why Baby Why,” these recordings stay true to the originals, which are, at least to my way of thinking, mostly far too familiar. How many times do we need to hear “Wild Horses” and “Angel from Montgomery”?
That being said, the respect and sensitivity that these stellar musicians bring to these classic tunes is remarkable. On both the 2014 and 2015 sold-out cruises, Miller set up a recording studio in the bowling alley of the ship and recorded and played with veterans as well as emerging artists. Miller presents 11 of the best of these sessions here. Buddy opens the album singing duets with his friend, Lee Ann Womack, on the Lynn/Twitty chestnut “After the Fire Is Gone” and then with Kasey Musgrave on the Buck Owens standard, “Love’s Gonna Live Here.” Venerable Kris Kristofferson sounds as good as ever on his own “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Miller pairs with the dynamic, sassy, Nikki Lane for the Parton/Wagoner tune “Just Someone I Used to Know.” The heart of the album centers on Lucinda Williams’ touching reading of Gram Parson’s “Hickory Wind” and Richard Thompson’s brilliant take on Hank’s “Wedding Bells.” I couldn’t help but reference John Prine’s duet album classic, In Spite of Ourselves, where Lucinda did her own version of that tune. The interplay between Thompson’s electric and Buddy’s everpresent baritone guitar, though brief, is perhaps the best instrumental sequence on the record. Again, all of these interpretations are handled with the utmost care. When describing superstar athletes, you often hear that “he makes the people around him better.” The same can certainly be applied to Buddy Miller who consistently brings out the best in those he plays with.