The Best of the Hightone Years

Buddy Miller

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The Best of the Hightone Years Review

by Steve Leggett

Buddy Miller is country in a way that country isn't marketed much these days. He knows life is ragged and messy, and that's the way he approaches songs, and he sings with a wild, willful abandon that sounds as real and lived in as the day is long. There's nothing smooth and polished about Buddy Miller, which is why he doesn't get played on contemporary country stations and gets shuffled away under the Americana or alt-country umbrellas. Whatever. He's the real deal, and this excellent sampler of his eight-year stay at Hightone Records shows that again and again, and it makes a perfect introduction to this delightfully maverick singer and songwriter. There isn't a slack song in the sequence, but a few really stand out, particularly the opener, "The River's Gonna Run," written by his wife, Julie Miller, who sings on it, too, and the couple sounds like the second coming of Richard & Mimi Fariña if the Fariñas had spent a lifetime drinking and smoking in a honky tonk road house. It's country, even if Nashville has no clue that it is. Other highlights here include "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go," a loosely sung but masterful version of Richard Thompson's "Keep Your Distance," and a fun romp through "Hole in My Head," which Miller co-wrote with Jim Lauderdale. But each of these 16 tracks has something to offer, and even though they're drawn from five different albums for Hightone, they feel like they all belong together (the album isn't arranged chronologically, which means the songs bounce off each other in a natural flow, and it shows someone put some thought into sequencing), and the end result is an impressive portrait of an American treasure. Folks, this is country the way it ought to be done.

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