Buddy Miller's the Majestic Silver Strings / Buddy Miller

The Majestic Silver Strings

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Buddy Miller records as a frontman sparingly -- the last time was in 2009 with wife Julie Miller on the stellar Written in Chalk. He does far more performing and producing, the latter including Patty Griffin's Downtown Church and Robert Plant's Band of Joy offerings. For The Majestic Silver Strings, Miller recruited guitarists Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, and Greg Leisz to join him on a program of classic country songs and a couple of originals. The four guitar players are joined variously by guest vocalists including Griffin, Julie Miller, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, Lee Ann Womack, and Ann McCrary, and the rhythm section of drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Dennis Crouch. The program is a revisioning of tunes from country's canon that sound timeless against the original material. It is without nostalgia. The dreamy opening notes of "Cattle Call" (inextricably linked with the legendary Eddy Arnold) make it obvious that something special is unfolding. Frisell and Leisz play waltz-time intertwining leads as Ribot adds a requinto and Miller a mandoguitar through a lengthy intro before adding his grainy, crooning voice. The spunky "No Good Lover" is a swinging blues with Frisell and Ribot trading licks before McCrary duets with Miller. Lefty Frizzell's "I Want to Be with You Always" boasts gorgeous guitar slinging, but is eclipsed by the sensual vocal duet between Griffin and Miller. The reading of Roger Miller's "Dang Me" is radical: Chocolate Genius takes the vocal, making it slippery and silvery atop a spooky, swampy nocturnal blues. Elizabeth Cotten's standard "Freight Train" is given a shuffling yet swinging rag treatment with all four guitar players trading fours and eights. Womack contributes two fine vocals: in the forlorn, gauzy "Meds" (written by Ribot) and the heartbreaking "Return to Me," which aches with longing; it's underscored by lovely acoustic work from Ribot on a nylon-string guitar, Miller playing baritone and rounded off by Leisz's steel with Frisell comping. Miller and Ribot duet on a barely contained stomping four-guitar read of the George Jones classic "Why Baby Why." Julie and Frisell wrote the closer, "God's Wing'ed Horse," which is arguably the most nakedly tender, moving piece on the record. She and Buddy duet as Frisell, Ribot, and Leisz wind around one another like vines throughout this intimate gospel song. The Majestic Silver Strings is one of those rare "supergroup" projects that works -- as much by its understatement as its savvy choice of material and excellent performances. [Enclosed in the package is an accompanying DVD that includes a "making-of" documentary with concert footage and a video for "Why Baby Why."]

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