Last week, in my review of the new album from Middle Brother, I wrote about the use of the term “supergroup,” it’s history, and how it relates to contemporary music. Now along comes super producer/singer/songwriter/guitar player/sideman Buddy Miller with his new album The Majestic Silver Strings (New West), and he has assembled what can justly be called a supergroup for the occasion.
Miller’s supergroup is a guitar army that in addition to Miller himself includes Bill Frissell, Marc Ribot, and Greg Leisz. The concept is to pair these brilliant and innovative guitar players with some of the finest singers working today, and tackle a handful of country music classics, along with a couple of original tunes.
The singers are Ann McCrary, Patty Griffin, Lee Ann Womack, Marc Anthony Thompson (aka Chocolate Genius), Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, and Julie Miller. Of course Miller himself lends his wonderful voice to the proceedings, as does Ribot on a couple of tracks. The songs are, for the most part, decidedly old school country.
The Majestic Silver Strings opens with Miller crooning “Cattle Call,” a song associated with Eddy Arnold, while Frissell and Leisz perform their guitar magic. Things take an upbeat turn on Mickey and Sylvia’s “No Good Lover,” which finds Miller duetting with Ann McCrary, while Frissell and Ribot trade solos.
Ribot takes the vocal lead on a couple of public domain tunes, “Barres de la Prison,” and “Bury Me Not On the Lone Prairie,” and while his voice is not on a par with the album’s other singers, the overall effect of these turns is spellbinding. Ribot also wrote one of the album’s new songs, a terrific look at contemporary angst called “Meds” that is beautifully sung by Lee Ann Womack.
Elsewhere, Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” gets a drastic re-imagining courtesy of Miller’s spooky, swampy production, and Marc Anthony Thompson’s matching vocal. The album closes with one of my very favorite things in music, a Buddy and Julie Miller vocal duet on “God’s Winged Horse.” It’s a Frissell song that Julie Miller wrote lyrics for, and it’s a stunning finish to the proceedings.
The Majestic Silver Strings is something of a dream for guitar players, but if you’re expecting some flashy shredding, look elsewhere. These four brilliant players are known for taste and innovation, and those qualities are on full display here. Buddy Miller continues to grow as a producer. The settings he has created for these great musicians, singers and guitar players, serve to honor their talent, and burnish his ever-growing legacy.
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