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Universal United House of Prayer

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Sep
Universal United House of Prayer
Sounds like … the alt country and modern Americana of Bob Dylan, Derek Webb, Emmylou Harris, Blind Boys of Alabama, and Lost DogsAt a glance … the musicianship on this alt country effort is very well done as Miller attempts to reconcile wartime fears with his Christian beliefsTrack ListingWorry Too MuchThere's a Higher PowerShelter MeWith God on Our SideWide River to CrossFire and WaterDon't WaitThis Old WorldIs That YouReturningFall on the Rock

Though he's only released a handful of solo albums since 1995, 51-year-old Buddy Miller is something of a legend in underground Christian and alt country circles, playing guitar for many highly regarded artists. That still holds true on Universal United House of Prayer, which features the talents of his wife Julie, Regina and Ann McCrary, Steve Hindalong, Phil Madeira, and even a duet with longtime friend Emmylou Harris on "Wide River to Cross." The music is deeply rooted in Americana—country, blues, folk, and gospel—but given a modern-day sheen.

Highlights include the explosive country rock of "Don't Wait," the bluesy "Fall on the Rock," and a fusion country-gospel cover of the Louvin Brothers' "There's a Higher Power." Most of the album is original, featuring four co-written with Julie. The charming country of "This Old World" reminds us to serve and pray to our Creator, and "Is That You" reverently questions the presence of the Almighty and marvels over his amazing benevolence.

Like Miller's previous albums, this is a socially conscious gospel record, similar to what we've heard from Bob Dylan, Mark Heard, Rich Mullins, and Derek Webb over time. There are in fact covers of Heard's characteristically bold "Worry Too Much" and Dylan's "With God on Our Side," which with nine minutes of stanzas gives plenty to reflect on. But the difference in a modern context is that the songs seem more timely and relevant than ever.

Though this album is seemingly a reaction to America's war on terrorism, it's handled as a thoughtful and meaningful reproach, not the typically angry cheap shot. It also challenges us to focus on faith and prayer, things that run deeper than our patriotism, and that's something that all Christians can agree upon.