Record Review - 2 December 16 2004

The release of his Hightone Records debut in 1995 sent singer/songwriter Buddy Miller to the top of the "Country Soul" MVP list. Along with his wife, Julie, he became one of the most respected artists in Americana. Miller's subsequent albums seemed to fall into a comfortable routine. Each was a keeper, but there was a frustrating predictability about them. With this year's phenomenal Universal United House of Prayer, Miller has created what may be one of the defining records of his career. He branches into a rather controversial area while maintaining the essential characteristics that make his work so special.

Miller's spirituality has been a major factor in his musical life. But until now, Miller has never expressed his faith as publicly as Julie. Universal United House of Prayer is his version of a gospel album, and he nails it. All the signifying Miller traits are there, from his rich and soulful vocal style to his amazing guitar work. His usual cast of supporters is present — Julie, Jim Lauderdale and Emmylou Harris, along with a couple of newcomers. Vocalists Regina and Ann McCrary, daughters of Fairfield Four founder the Rev. Sam McCrary, help add a big dose of that "full gospel" sound.

Combining his original tunes with choice covers such as the Louvin Brothers' "There's A Higher Power" and Bob Dylan's epic (and timely) "With God on Our Side," Miller delivers a series of testimonials for the thinking person. He offers honest conviction and joy even when the message is dark.??