81. Meet Julie Miller – Julie Miller
MEET JULIE MILLER (1990)
Dear God, how I love this album!
There is not one wasted note, riff or beat anywhere to be found. Some may find Miller’s quirky, child-like voice an acquired taste, but I rather consider it simply needing an educated palette.
After a very short stint with the group Streetlight, which only recorded an EP, with her husband Buddy Miller, Julie was signed by Myrrh and immediately they began the horrific mistake of touting their Leslie Phillips replacement and their answer to Cyndi Lauper.
What they actually had was a brilliant songwriter, singer and performer. Talent runs deep in the Miller household and CCM;s inability to grasp the fact and promote her properly left her looking to mainstream and independent channels for the majority of her fine career.
But in 1990 a wonderful, melodic, accessible and utterly enjoyable album found a home in my CD rotation and has never left it. Rich in harmonies, memorable melodies and brilliant musicianship, Meet Julie Miller was a brilliant introduction to the artist.
The 30-second acapella blues number “Dogtown” starts the record before launching right into one of the radio hits from the album, “You Knew the Way to My Heart.” Melodic, pop-driven Americana rock with a hook of a chorus so large you could drive a truck through it. Miller’s ability to work her voice through whispering, soft moments to gravelly pop hooks is quite impressive. The use of her own voice in the backing vocals just works in creating the perfect harmonies in the bridge.
“Mystery Love” follows in the same vein with the bluesy, jangly rock (Mark Heard and T-Bone Burnett would be proud) style. This is one of the few songs that reminds me musically of Leslie Phillips, though one of the great ironies is that Phillips is said to be the one who passed along Miller’s demo to the execs at Myrrh in the first place.
We have mentioned “classics” and what qualifies as one several times on this blog. I firmly believe Miller has one here on this project and it remains her one biggest hit on Christian radio though clocking in at nearly 6 minutes (most stations played the edited version that leaves off the spoken word introduction), with “What Would Jesus Do.”
The song is not the normal sweet and lovely “Jesus loves me” sort of content CCM radio has been known for. But rather, the song is pointed look at the churches lack of genuine Biblical and loving response to the “least of these.” This missional (before the word existed) song features an all-star chorus at the end that is genuinely inspirational in the good sense of the word, including Phillips, Buddy Miller, Russ Taff and a host of others.
“Don’t Cry for me” returns to the more acoustic Americana rock that populates the majority of the album. Dan Posthuma’s production may get occasionally heavy-handed, as a more stark, limited and earthy arrangement would have made this song more authentic. But Posthuma is much more hands off sounding than on some of the work he did a few years previous with Phillips.
Following somewhat in the vein of “What Would Jesus Do,” is the beautiful “How Could You Say No.” A stunningly simply acoustic ballad, the song is both poignant and powerful in its sheer simple faith. When presented with the truth of what Christ suffered on your behalf, how is it possible to reject His grace?
“King of My Heart” is another less than a minute number that moves directly into the one real “rocker” on the album. The funky and rollicking “Song to the Devil” is very reminiscent of the two “Devil” songs recorded by Keith Green over a decade previously. The possibly pretentious silliness of the song is overcome by the sheer joy and humor of the performance.
The completely different “world music” rhythm of “Who Owns Your heart” is so refreshing as sounds cool 20 years later. Reminds me of some of Bruce Cockburn’s music off of “Stealing Fire.”
Live the “devil” song, “My Psychiatrist” is a humorous novelty song that wins the listener over by the sheer joy of it all. Deep within the silliness, though, is a great message.
“Love Will Find You” remains my favorite song from the album and would give the listener a glimpse at what was to come from the artist. The light country/folk of the melody belies a deeper thought process within its message. Also, the song really shows Miller the singer and how she sounds harmonizing with Buddy. Really a pretty song that should and could have been a country hit in the right circumstance.
The darkest and most moving song on the album may be the abortion themed “Dangerous Place.” Here the womb is described as a dangerous place to many an unborn child. Melodically, the song is the darkest and most difficult. The fading refrain of “Jesus Loves Me” sung by a children’s choir at the songs close is quite moving.
The album closes with the traditional, “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus.” This simple reworking of the classic Gospel tune is a fitting finale to this amazing project that throughout tips its cap to the traditional music of Gospel while looking to the future of great artistic folk and rock music in Miller’s career.