The song was a departure for Taylor, in that it was based loosely on historical interviews about working conditions in mid-19th century mills. Also unique is the telling of the story in the voice of a female character, not something that was common for JT.
Buller is supported by her trusty Becky Buller Band, consisting of Ned Luberecki on banjo, Jake Eddy on guitar, x Wes Lee mandolin, and Daniel Hardin on bass. Andrea Zonn, who has toured with Taylor for years, and Dan Tyminski add harmony vocals.
She says that the song came to the band along the road, and that it has a delightful historical association with bluegrass.
“Back in 2018, the band and I were headed north to perform for the Boston Bluegrass Union. I wanted to do a song that mentioned Massachusetts and immediately thought of this James Taylor tune from his Flag album. We loved it so much, we’ve included it in our shows ever since.
James wrote it from the perspective of a widowed mother who is enduring the drudgery of millwork to sustain her family. As a working mother myself, this woman’s story resonates with me on many levels.
And I love the wistful, angsty melody. James can sure paint a picture with his words. He’s one of my all-time favorite writers.
There’s an interesting bluegrass connection to Millworker.
I’ll let Chris Jones tell you about it:
‘James Taylor wrote Millworker specifically for the Broadway musical Working, which was based on the Studs Terkel book of the same name, and featured a series of stories about people and their jobs.
The show was first staged in Chicago (Terkel’s hometown), which would’ve been the first public performance of the song.
My mother, Jo Henderson, was in that original theatrical production and I got to hear Robin Lamont sing the song in rehearsals.'”
Have a listen…
This version of Millworker is destined for a future Becky Buller release that will contain a full album of covers, which producer and Dark Shadow President Stephen Mougin says will be some time in coming.
“A number of years ago we had a Becky Buller Band retreat on the campus of ETSU, hosted by her then-guitar-player Dan Boner. I was there as band coach and producer to work through a bunch of her material, and I distinctly remember spending some healthy time re-arranging Millworker. The song was powerful and the band and I had some fresh ideas to bring it to life in the voice of Becky Buller. She sings this song with deep empathy for the character, as though she might have lived the story herself. Becky has been playing this song at her shows for a long time and as we started talking about the possibility of a covers album, I immediately asked her to include it!
We are releasing a Becky Buller Christmas album later this year, so the Covers album is a way off, but we couldn’t resist getting an early start!”
For now, the single will be available from popular download and streaming services online starting on August 19.