Individually and as collaborators, married Nashville songwriters Buddy and Julie Miller have provided a steady stream of material for artists from Emmylou Harris and Levon Helm to Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert to record. But with Buddy also multi-tasking as a solo artist, producer and touring musician, and Julie slowed by years of chronic health issues, the couple have only released two albums together: 2001’s self-titled LP and 2009’s Written in Chalk. While the latter bore both their names, it was mainly cobbled together from Julie’s songwriting demos and featured Buddy working with duet partners like Harris, Patty Griffin and Robert Plant.
On June 21st, the Millers will finally release a proper new album. Breakdown on 20th Ave. South takes its title from the location of the Miller’s Nashville home and derives much of its close-to-the-bone subject matter from the couple’s struggle to deal with Julie’s health challenges and Buddy’s ongoing workload.
“[Julie]’s had health things that have plagued her since I met her in Austin when she was a kid,” Buddy Miller tells Rolling Stone Country. “It had gotten worse over time and exacerbated with weather and other circumstances. That, and the combination of me working… when we would go out and play as a duo sometimes it was fun, sometimes I think I was a jerk, a bit of a taking control. She’s a very free, creative person that I might have squelched a little bit.”
In advance of the release of album, Buddy and Julie Miller will issue a seven-inch vinyl single of Breakdown‘s searing “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” on May 10th. Julie’s vulnerable but biting lyrics to the slow-rolling rocker hint at feelings of abandonment and a determination to re-shift focus as she sings, “I’m going make you love me, even if you do or not/I’m gonna make you forget every other girlfriend you’ve got.”
“I’m a little slow to the uptake on that kind of stuff, but I think that song in some way sort of addressed why it took us so long to work together,” say Buddy. “Basically, I kind of took myself everywhere the work was for 15 years or so, except for home. I was playing with a lot of people, producing. It was all incredible work with people who were my heroes and I only took work that was meaningful to me. But Julie was put on the back burner.”
The vinyl release of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” is backed by the exclusive inclusion of Julie’s heart-stopping vocal-and-piano version of “Can’t Cry Hard Enough,” written by David Williams and Lone Justice founder Marvin Etzioni. Originally included on Julie’s 1994 album Invisible Girl, the track, which also features John Schreiner on piano and John Catchings on cello, was first recorded by David Williams and his twin brother Andy (recording as the Williams Brothers) in 1992, and has also been cut by Victoria Williams and Susan Ashton.
“Julie just loves the song and we were just thinking of what would be appropriate,” Buddy explains. “I think loss is something that has figured prominently in this record. A lot of people, the older you get the more you experience it.”
Breakdown on 20th Ave. South was recorded in a four-square-foot corner of an upstairs bedroom of the couple’s home, as opposed to the studio on the floor below. Uncomfortable and inconvenient as the setting was, Buddy notes, “there were ghosts in the studio room for Julie that she didn’t want to revisit.” He also says, however, that recording the album restored their relationship “in every way possible,” adding, “This is much more Julie’s record than a duo record. I wanted it to be and I wanted her to be happy with it. I wanted to just do what I could do with my limited abilities to fulfill her vision. It helped us in every way. She’s gone through a creative spurt and keeps writing, which is a great thing.”
Breakdown on 20th Ave. South will be released on June 21st. Buddy and Julie will make just one public appearance to celebrate the album with a June 26th performance at Nashville’s City Winery. The show will be recorded live for later broadcast on the Buddy & Jim Radio Show, the longtime radio show Miller co-hosts with Jim Lauderdale on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country Channel.