The bulk of Buddy Miller’s songs, at first blush, seem to consist of romantic ballads offered with tasteful, understated arrangements. On a few cuts, the production seems bent on putting a country radio ballad sheen on singer-songwriter confessionals. One could think that this is a collection designed to have you crying in your Starbucks latte. However, if you lay back and let this group of songs, THE BEST OF THE HIGHTONE YEARS, reflecting his output from 1995-2002, wash over you, a hard-edged poetry emerges, the kind of surprising twists of narrative and unexpected depths earned by a clever turn-of-phrase that elevates this material. Imagine taking the emotive power of Lefty Frizzell and combining it with the low-key intelligence of Leonard Cohen, you’ll likely picture songs that strive to offer something beyond country professionalism.

His wife, Julie Miller, elevates every track on which she appears, dueting with her guitar-slinger husband on four tracks and offering tight harmonies on others.

Standouts include slow burn thumpers like DOES MY RING BURN YOUR FINGER and LITTLE DARLIN’ -- and his take on the hit he wrote for the Dixie Chicks, HOLE IN MY HEAD, smokes their more popular version.