A married couple who make music together, Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller of West Virginia are steeped in old-time traditions. Both can play solid fiddle or guitar, and they specialize in Appalachian-style close harmonies. Talk about a winning combination! This disc took me by surprise when it came over the transom but it’s quickly become a favorite for the unpretentious yet highly professional style this couple brings to the music. It was recorded as part of a series of live sessions at the Deep End Ranch in an old hacienda in a lemon grove in Santa Paula, California, just north of Los Angeles proper
When I saw the Ola Belle Reed song “Undone In Sorrow” on the track list, I jumped right to it because it’s one of my favorites of all time and also because it’s a good test of a singer. Emily passed that test with flying colors, both for her fiddling and her singing, with Jesse providing solid picking and vocal harmonies. Going back to the top and playing it through, I was enchanted anew with each song and tune, starting with the two quick-stepping dance numbers, the song “Fun’s All Over” and tune “Puncheon Floor.” Jesse plays fiddle and Emily guitar on both of those, and he sings lead to her harmony on “Fun’s All Over.”
The disc’s 17 tracks are mostly traditional in origin, but that leaves room for much variety. There’s the blazing fiddle duet “Sally Anne Johnson,” which you can see in a live video from the Deep End Ranch concert that went along with the recording session. There’s Emily’s unaccompanied solo on the shape-note song “Hungry Faint And Poor” and the similarly unaccompanied song led by Jesse, the mournful ballad “Hiram Herbert.” Besides the Ola Belle Reed song they cover Hazel Dickens’s “My Better Years.” And each of them contributes a song of their own devising, both very personal and engaging contemporary folk songs. Emily wrote “I Got Lucky” as a surprise for their wedding and Jesse wrote the humorous “My Baby’s Not A Nightowl” about Emily’s tendency to fall asleep during concerts when she was a grad student.
If you are a stranger to the music of Jesse and Emily as I was, take the plunge and check it out. This couple’s music completely won me over. You can listen to “Fun’s All Over,” “Roving Gambler,” and “I Got Lucky With You” (and learn more about the Deep End Sessions series) on the Deep End Sessions website. Jesse and Emily also have a website.
(Deep End Sessions, 2015)