Her first album since leaving the Contemporary Christian Music fold, Julie Miller's Blue Pony is a wonderful slice of contemporary country that draws heavily on both folk and rock music. While Miller is an accomplished songwriter and singer, her husband Buddy Miller plays a central role on the album, playing guitar, singing, and producing. Stylistically, the songs vary between rock tunes like "Kiss on the Lips" to the traditional country sounds of "Take Me Back" and "Face of Appalachia." There's also "Forever My Beloved," a duet with Emmylou Harris, which sounds like a traditional Anglo-Irish folk tune. Lyrically, Miller presents a rather bleak world in her songs, which are often populated with people who have seen the hurtful side of life: mothers who have given their children up for adoption ("Letters to Emily"), the mentally ill ("All the Pieces of Mary"), and abused children ("Dancing Girl"). There are also those who are simply troubled by love. But Miller possesses both empathy and love for all these characters, offering them hope through their despair. In "I Call on You" she offers God as a way to overcome the anguish of life: "When trouble has swallowed my soul I call on You." But ultimately, she is more concerned with the happiness of others; closing the album is "Last Song," in which she hopes for a rich life for the listener. Miller is an exceptionally gifted songwriter, and Blue Pony contains ample evidence of her talents. And while other singers like Harris have offered interpretations of Miller's songs, she herself is able to provide the unique insights that only a song's author can bring. Coupled with great playing courtesy of Buddy Miller and a cast of talented collaborators, Blue Pony is a top-notch album.