When it comes to typical cruise ship music, it’s hard not to imagine the schmaltzy, sequined performances that passengers are usually treated to onboard — think a cover of “Midnight at the Oasis,” only partially in key. But if you’re the legendary producer and artist Buddy Miller, and said vessel is the Cayamo Cruise packed to the gills with pals like Kacey Musgraves, Nikki Lane, Lee Ann Womack, Brandi Carlile and Kris Kristofferson, the results are anything but typical. The new album Cayamo Sessions at Sea, streaming exclusively on Rolling Stone Country, is the result of collaborations born portside and starboard during the annual roots-centric voyage, all rooted in Miller’s fierce dedication to reinventing bygone country classics in a way that sounds both deeply traditional and thrillingly current.
Buddy Miller & Friend’s Cayamo Sessions at Sea is a stellar sampler of some of the most prominent voices in country and Americana music today, both veteran (Kristofferson on a softly shuffling version of his own hit for Johnny Cash, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”) and new (Musgraves’ crystalline honky-tonk take on Buck Owens’ “Love’s Gonna Live Here”). For all the sessions, Miller handpicked friends to come and record in his makeshift onboard studio during the past two Cayamo journeys, serving as duet partner, producer, harmonizer or all of the above.
“Buddy Miller does so many things well, but he really understands classic country music,” Womack tells Rolling Stone Country about her contribution, “After the Fire Is Gone,” once recorded by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty but done infinite justice by her pristine vocals alongside Miller’s ragged charm. “So any time Buddy asks me to sing, I’m in, because I know it will be something really special. But to go on a cruise with so many artists I love to do it? Well, that’s awesome.”
Other standout performances on Cayamo Sessions at Sea include Lane on Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s “Just Someone I Used to Know,” Shawn Colvin on the Rolling Stones’ country-steeped classic “Wild Horses” and Elizabeth Cook’s perfectly raucous “If Teardrops Were Pennies,” another one from the Porter/Parton repertoire.
“So many amazing collaborations happen on Cayamo,” says Miller, known also for his hosting duties on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country as well as his role as executive music producer for ABC’s Nashville. “I’m really happy we got a chance to record a few of these special musical moments with some of my favorite singers and very glad we can share these tracks.”
This year’s Cayamo Cruise sets sail from Miami on January 31st and includes performances from Musgraves, John Prine, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris, John Fullbright and more — along with Miller, of course, who is bringing his mobile studio back for another year.
Cayamo Sessions at Sea will be released Friday, January 29th, via New West Records.