two hearts beating, one marriage churning

What is the sound of marriage hardfought, hardscrabble, hardwon? Is it Yoko Ono's dissonant shrieking? Trent Reznor's most post-ndustrial cacophony? Or the ruminations on various states of love from two unpolished voices merging?

The smart money goes on Buddy & Julie Miller, roots singer/songwriters who stand at Emmylou Harris' right hand and provide snapshots of lives lived like papercuts and loves gone like mean ghosts and bad debts, empty yet always dogging you. On their first collaborative record, it's strictly a scraped knuckle affair.

For the Millers, though, there is no substitute for organic sounds, flawed moments that are perfect enough and performances shot through with the kinds of truths that cause pause amongst the recnognition of something so quickly, unthinkingly passed by. They sing songs of love enflamed, love long gone, love of God and love of others… and in their hearts, it all comes from a place of much truth and intensity.

As the guitars bristle in brittle recognition of want and not want, Julie's little girl voice is brutally encased like spray roses in rusted barbed wire on the spooky "Dirty Water," then pitted against the feral "Wild Thing"-evoking squawl of "You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast" and the out-of-control passion that ignites "Little Darlin'"'s Russian roulette take on romance that will not be denied. Buddy's white-washed, split rail tenderness is the perfect foil, caressing the hushed truth beneath the skin of "That's Just How She Cries," then sounding a mournful note on "The River's Gonna Run" as he surrenders to love's Higher Power.

On "River," Julie offers a counterpoint vocal that is keening, yet underpins the probing truth being embraced. This is about a love bigger than the both of them -- and it is truly the tie that binds. If there is a central moment to their rainbow coalition of the heart, it turns on this song with Harris' vet Brady Blades offering almost tribally pulsing drums, NRBQ vet Joey Spampinato reinforcing both the melodic thrust and the heartbeat and Buddy's guitars strung like high tension wire on which the vocals may perch as they balance between the power and the peril.

Powerful as that is, it's when the two voices intertwine that they mesermize. An Okie dustbowl Everly Brother and Sister, the Millers conjure the aural equivalent of tears on the old-time country waltz "Forever Has Come To An End," where they're joined by Harris for the third harmony part. They then fearlessly rev Dylan's "Wallflower" with a raw charge of pure desire, inject Richard Thompson's "Keep Your Distance" with a dangerous erotic current to be denied -- and close with as good a love eternal moment as has been witnessed in "Holding Up The Sky."

With neither bravado nor coy Hallmark curlicues, they offer each other the best they have: "Baby our love was meant to be/ It's from God's hands/ Even when dreams turn to memories." Simple truths, well told and played with basic economy. It should all be so easy.

-- Holly Gleason