Buddy Miller’s rambling brick and white wood house in Nashville’s Belmont neighborhood is filled with heavy antique wicker, old rugs, vintage prints and light pouring in the oversized windows. Hard to believe Robert Plant, Solomon Burke, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and many more have pilgrimaged to the cozy home that doubles as a studio, but arriving in the back room where a large recording console is ensconced along with stacks of amps and computer drives, it’s obvious Miller lives where he works or works where he lives, depending on perspective.
“You want a cappuccino?” inquires Jim Lauderdale, Grammy-winning progressive roots artist/hit country songwriter and Miller’s co-conspirator for Buddy and Jim, a percolating bit of funk ’n’ fiddle that smears the lines between old-school country and juke-joint rhythm and blues. “Buddy’s got a really nice machine…”
?This isn’t yuppie posturing, so much as “can you believe this?”
Once upon a time, the acclaimed Americana denizens were broke hopefuls, punching out bluegrass, Wurlitzer country and race music waiting on their dreams at North Hollywood’s legendary Palomino Club, alongside an unknown Lucinda Williams, blues belter Candye Kane and Dwight Yoakam producer Pete Anderson. For Lauderdale, it was a shelved 1989 CBS Nashville project, followed by critical acclaim and not much more at Warner Nashville. For Miller, indie records with good reviews and a lot of time logged as Lauderdale’s guitarist. ?
“I was selling guitars every month to pay the rent,” Miller confesses. It was the cheap housing in Nashville that lured the Millers to Music City; an upstairs room in that house gave Lauderdale a Nashville anchor.? “We bought the house, kicked out the tenant and Jim moved in for a year and a half,” Miller says of the friend he first made in Manhattan in the early ‘80s. “He stayed there until he found that possum living under his bed.” ?Since then, Miller has won every Americana Music Award except Female Vocalist, for his own music, as well as producing, touring and/or anchoring Plant’s Band of Joy, Harris’ Spyboy, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Colvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, while Lauderdale, the Americana Music Association Awards’ perennial host, has made albums with Dr. Ralph Stanley, the North Mississippi All-Stars and Donna the Buffalo as well as penning No. 1s for George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Gary Allan and Patty Loveless.
?And now, the pair who’ve played, written and sung on each other’s projects are finally releasing their first album. A freewheeling romp that’s long on two-part harmonies, bumping beats and world-class musicianship, Buddy and Jim is a hodgepodge of fresh originals, covers of their own songs and forgotten chestnuts.
From the insistent surge of the opening “I Lost My Job of Loving You” through the rubbery 1959 Jimmy McCracklin rave “The Wobble,” they swing seamlessly through their austere cocktail ballad “That’s Not Even Why I Love You,” noirbilly “Vampire Girl,” staccato sexuberance of Johnny & Jack’s “Down South in New Orleans” and hilarious shuffle “Looking For a Heartache” recorded by Miller in 1999 and Patty Loveless in 2003.?
“It was maybe the second song Buddy and I ever wrote,” Lauderdale marvels. “I’d always wanted to record it. This was the perfect place.”
Indeed. Their freewheeling friendship and close harmony singing imbue the diverse songscape with unforced cohesion.?“We started talking about this out on the road with Lucinda or maybe Emmylou,” Miller remembers.?“That was 15 years ago,” Lauderdale explains. “And then we had three days open.”?
Three days. Literally. Between their crazy schedules, they had exactly three days to make it happen. ?It was initially intended as a cover record—“songwriting takes time, and I didn’t have it,” Miller confesses—but Lauderdale’s insistence on it being a true reflection of their friendship pushed the pair into harvesting their older songs and creating new.? “I like to write at night,” Lauderdale says. “Buddy’d give me a riff and some lyrics of Julie’s, and I was off. On another, he gave me this groove. We make it work. We had to.”
Using 24 track tape, dust flew and musicians captured the songs the way records used to be made: live. With a core band of Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin, banjo), Russ Pahl (steel guitar, banjo), Dennis Crouch (upright bass), Marco Giovino (percussion), Patterson Barrett (keyboards), Miller on electric and Lauderdale on acoustic, Miller concedes, “It’s a snapshot of just those few days.” ?Euphoric, randy, willing, Buddy and Jim boils down a friendship, and serves it up as an unthinking celebration of song that comes from overlapping lives, admiration and aesthetic sense. The call-and-response on the end of Joe Tex’s steamy soul stroll “I Want To Do Everything For You” is reflexive and engaged, while the perfect two-part harmony on Julie Miller’s “It Hurts Me” evokes the heartbreaking formation vocals of the Brothers Everly or Louvin.
“Duets that are mostly duets all the way through,” says Miller, who also co-hosts a Sirius/XM radio show with Lauderdale, of their target. “There’s a real strength in that kind of harmony singing through the whole song, and you don’t hear it anymore except on really old records.” “You can move around when there’s two parts,” Lauderdale picks up. “With three, you have to stick to your part, or you’re stepping on someone else’s note.” “The three part thing really only works with the Trio, those three girls,” Miller jokes, referencing the ‘80s project with Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. “Or Crosby, Stills and Nash.? Beyond that, all the mystery’s gone. You’re happy, or you’re sad. Beyond no freedom in the singing, there’s a real power when you’re singing fifths.”
With voices that sound a bit rough and worn, but sweetened the way time settles wild edges, the pair have created an album that absolutely revels in the romantic charge between men and women. But in the process, beyond the timeless arrangements, deep grooves and stand-out playing, they’ve found a way to celebrate the joy of friendship through thick, thin and music’s abiding power.