Buddy Miller & Friends
Cayamo Sessions at Sea
3 out of 5 stars
The pungent whiff of commercialism that lingers over this Buddy Miller-led compilation of recordings captured on the titular singer/songwriter cruise isn’t quite enough to sink it, but there remains a soggy aftertaste. While the tunes are an enjoyable, generally inspired batch of Miller collaborations with high profile guests in his Americana genre (Kris Kristofferson, Shawn Colvin, Kasey Musgraves, Lucinda Williams and others), it’s unlikely this would exist if not for the tie-in with the annual excursion.
Thankfully, anything Miller puts his name on is guaranteed to be quality, which makes each of these 11 tracks—all covers, a mix of obscure and well known– worth hearing. Some are duets with predominantly female friends like Lee Ann Womack for the opening Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty hit “After the Fire is Gone,” Kacey Musgraves with a peppy version of Buck Owens’ “Love’s Gonna Live Here” and Elizabeth Cook on a jumpy “If Teardrops Were Pennies.” Elsewhere Miller stays in the background, letting Shawn Colvin ride on a lovely “Wild Horses” and giving Lucinda Williams the spotlight as she slithers her way through an emotional take on Gram Parsons’ weepy “Hickory Wind” with Fats Kaplan’s sweet, sad pedal steel pushing this version into near classic territory. He and Richard Thompson dig into the Hank Williams catalog to unearth the weepy honky-tonk ballad “Wedding Bells” and Brandi Carlile joins with The Lone Bellow for a closing “Angel From Montgomery,” respectfully tipping their hat with a stripped down, and a slowed down, acoustic approach to the John Prine gem.
These are all respectful, reverant and, when appropriate, playful. They are beautifully and meticulously performed, sung and recorded with emotion and a sure sense of collaboration that often brings out the best in artists. But at a scant 41 minutes, the disc is also frustratingly short; surely there was more worthy material from two years’ worth of recordings. And, with the cruise name prominently displayed above Miller’s on the cover, it’s hard to shake the nagging notion that this hews too closely to a classy, not-so-subtle advertisement enticing more customers onto future trips. Despite those reservations (pun intended), there is enough wonderful music here for even landlubbing Americana fans to enjoy.