Tucked away in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina, Waynesville is the kind of town where everyone knows everyone. Small enough that it seems strange that Buddy Melton and Milan Miller would be in their late twenties before they ever crossed paths. Making the scenario even more unlikely, they both took their first music lessons from local Bluegrass musician Bill Phillips, and had more mutual friends than could be easily counted. Buddy’s mother was even Milan’s second grade teacher.
All of those near misses finally came together one evening in 1998 at a jam session hosted by a local coffee shop. Milan recounts, “This soft-spoken, unassuming guy steps in and starts to sing, and out of his mouth came the purest tenor voice I had ever heard. He seemed to have an unending vocal range. I thought to myself, I need to know more about this fellow.”
Although the common threads of heritage and upbringing helped Buddy and Milan cross paths, music was the catalyst that spawned an immediate kinship. The result has been an ongoing series of collaborations that have found the two as bandmates, sounding boards, co-writers, and troubadours searching for the perfect taco served from a trailer. Buddy adds, “Whenever we are working through creative details, if one of us pitches an idea, ninety-nine percent of the time, it ends up that the other one was thinking the same exact thing. We trust each other’s judgement to the point that if somebody has a gut feeling about something, we go with it. In any kind of partnership, that is a pretty rare luxury.”
Since that initial meeting almost two decades ago, the two have supported each other in a variety of musical endeavors. Buddy is a founding member of the multi award-winning band Balsam Range and was named Male Vocalist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in 2014. Milan has become a well-known songwriter within the Bluegrass genre scoring fourteen number one songs and two nominations each for IBMA Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. But even within the individual accolades, the significant influence that Buddy and Milan have had on each other remains easy to trace.
Their newest collaboration Secrets, Dreams & Pretty Things is firmly rooted within their history together, but also showcases a desire to look to the future and push musical boundaries. The twelve new tunes take the listener on an emotional journey filled with powerful lyrics, wonderful vocals, and impeccable arrangements. The songs were compiled by Buddy and Milan over the course of several years, and many have personal connections to the two friends. The lead-off track, Adeline was written by Milan for Buddy and could not more accurately capture his heartfelt sentiment for his daughter, Adeline. The lyrics to White Oak Mountain were written by Buddy’s grandfather, but were not found until after his passing. Others are uncut gems that have been patiently waiting for their moment to shine. Included are healthy doses of love and loss, ballads and breakdowns, revenge and redemption, heartaches and even a dash of hillbilly jazz.
Supported by some of the industry’s finest pickers and singers, this project is an opportunity to enlist a cast of heroes who have inspired Buddy and Milan individually and collectively. But more importantly, it is a project where friends have gathered to enjoy and compliment each other’s talents.