Culture > Music

Music: Matrimony music


Issue: "The harvest of abortion," Oct. 23, 1999

The latest albums by Alison Krauss and Julie Miller come as something of a palliative after the divorce of Amy Grant and Gary Chapman, a tragedy that at the very least has left those committed to honoring marriage with less music to take seriously or enjoy. Alison Krauss's Forget About It would seem at first to be anything but affirmative of enduring love, comprised as it is mainly of pre- and post-break-up songs. But the pre-break-up songs, especially Hugh Prestwood's "Ghost in This House" and Ron Block's "Could You Lie," are by no means nonchalant. Instead, Ms. Krauss's lullaby-like voice and the gentle acoustic touch of her musicians evoke nothing so much as the calm before the storm. Something important is also at stake in the post-break-up songs, especially Todd Rundgren's "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" (the lyrics of which belie the resignation of the title) and Gordon Kennedy and Phil Madeira's "Maybe" (the lyrics of which reinforce the title's ambivalence). The album's combination of doomed lyrics sweetly sung and gorgeous melodies sadly played is overwhelming. Were it not for the cautious optimism of Allyson Taylor and Larry Byrom's "Stay" and the even more cautious optimism of the Allen Reynolds waltz "Dreaming My Dreams with You," the entire album would be almost overwhelming. In the context, however, of Ms. Krauss's music (the most gospel-friendly of any major "non-gospel" performer's) and life (a marriage to her guitarist Pat Bergerson that still thrives), the album's stylistic paradoxes stand as an analogy for the constant reconciliations that make true happiness last. On Broken Things-the "things" being hearts-Julie Miller traces the source of human conflict to the soul itself. She writes both directly to God ("The Speed of Light," "I Need You," and the title cut) and about Him ("All My Tears," "Orphan Train") and sings in an Appalachian-tinged voice atop country-flavored folk-rock that echoes much older traditions. The combination makes for gospel music of an almost mystical intensity. Even the songs with ostensibly secular topics, "Strange Lover" and "Maggie," are extensions of Mrs. Miller's spiritual concerns. She sings the former, a raw blues about addiction in which cocaine equals the devil, with righteous fury ("Don't hit on me to put up your bail / You're better off right there in jail"); she sings the latter, a sympathetic sketch of a honky-tonk angel and the "little girl" she still is deep down, like one who understands and shares Christ's predilection for the outcast. Like Alison Krauss, Julie Miller is good enough to enlist the support of the best. Victoria Williams, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Larry Campbell (currently with Bob Dylan), and Joey Spaminato (ex-NRBQ) each play crucial roles at key moments on Broken Things. Most heartening though, for musical and extra-musical reasons, is that Mrs. Miller's bandleader, lead guitarist, co-producer, and all-'round biggest supporter is "Mr. Julie Miller" himself-the country traditionalist and fellow convert to Christianity, her husband Buddy.

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