Buddy & Julie Miller: Written in Chalk

New West
Music •••• Sound ••••
They've sung and played on each other's albums since the early 1990s, but Written in Chalk is only the second officially co-billed release by the husband-and-wife team of Buddy and Julie Miller.

The timing would seem to be good for this "follow-up" to their terrific 2001 self-titled set. While Buddy's work as a guitarist, songwriter, and singer has in recent years earned him long-deserved recognition as one of the true MVPs of the Americana/roots-music movement, the rich talents of his singer/songwriter wife have often been overlooked. That's not likely to continue much longer thanks to this album, which effectively showcases Julie's emotionally open compositions as well as her disarmingly affecting vocals.

Themes of separation and loss crop up regularly in Julie's songs - and she wrote 8 of the 12 selections here. At the same time, tracks like "Don't Say Goodbye" (about her late brother) and "June" (about the death of June Carter Cash) are infused with a palpable sense of spirituality and faith that moves them to unique ground. They're also ably abetted by Buddy's gritty vocals and guitar work - which come to the forefront in their own right on several well-chosen covers, such as Leon Payne's "The Selfishness of Man" and Mel Tillis's "What You Gonna Do, Leroy," featuring, respectively, guest vocals by Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant.

Still, the best moments come when Buddy and Julie are duetting side by side, co-igniting their truly special musical fire. Like the song says: "You and me are like gasoline and matches."