In recent years, the music-industry hype machine has worked overtime to promote the image of the Rebellious Young Woman. From folk-rocking lesbians like the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge to tantrum-throwing urchins like Alanis Morissette and Ani DiFranco, the Rebellious Young Woman has become the rock-and-roll version of the Virginia Slims Girl: A marketable symbol of sexual autonomy and its attendant joys that all but cries out, "I am woman, hear me blow smoke."
Amid such smog, Julie Miller-a Texas-bred, Nashville-based singer/songwriter-is a breath of fresh air. Her clear, childlike singing encourages favorable comparisons with Victoria Williams (a good friend of hers) while her husband Buddy's guitar work encourages favorable comparisons with the music of Emmylou Harris (in whose band Mr. Miller plays).
Julie Miller's song-writing skills, however, are in a class of their own, and it's her songs, more than her voice or her accompaniment, that make her new Hightone album, Blue Pony, one of the most consistently satisfying albums in some time.
The musical variety alone testifies to a rich creativity. Lean, mid-tempo rockers give way to bluegrass-tinged waltzes, and hushed, overheard ballads that might otherwise function as segues emerge as major numbers in their own right. Of course, hushed, overheard ballads can only emerge as major if their lyrics are worth overhearing, and in "Give Me an Ocean" and the title song, Mrs. Miller evokes the mystery of loss with an enviable lightness of touch.
In short, Blue Pony is the sort of sophomore album (her first, Invisible Girl, came and went a few years ago on a small Christian label) of which anyone would be proud. Anyone, that is, except possibly Julie Miller herself.
"My husband hates for me to put myself down in interviews," she told WORLD. "But to tell you the truth, I can't listen to my music after it's done because I hear stuff that bothers me, and then it's too late to change. Plus, I have a really hard time listening to my voice. I always think that something has happened to the speed knob."
She laughs. "But there is a part that I did feel pretty good about, that I kind of said what I wanted to say."
What Mrs. Miller wanted to say, in part, was that she's "held by a hand with a scar" ("I Call on You"), that "sometimes God serves the best wine up right from a paper cup" ("Letters to Emily"), and that those who've "come by way of sorrow" will one day "awake to days of laughter" and "dance in freedom ever after" ("By Way of Sorrow").
"I know the album's for Hightone," she explained, referring to her label's mainstream status, "so I'm not going to go sell them a really heavy-duty gospel record. But, then again, if I can't be myself and release my heart-what's the point?"
"Our days are so numbered, and I just want God to use my life. That's all I really care about."