Lauderdale’s unique melodic gifts and smart lyrics keep these artists coming back and have made him one of the busiest men in Nashville for years.
Those who dug a little further beneath the surface of roots music might regard Lauderdale as a kind of household name. For much of the listening public, though, he’s someone whose songs you may have heard many times over, but you likely wouldn’t recognize them standing in line at the supermarket.
This situation will probably change with Lauderdale’s simultaneous release of two fantastic new albums and recent tour: the classically honky-tonkin’ Country Super Hits! Vol. 1 and the more traditional, and aptly titled solo-ish album Bluegrass, the latter of which finds the singer/songwriter visiting traditional music for the first time since his 1999 recording with Ralph Stanley, I Feel Like Singing Today.
It’s just a beat or two into Country Super Hits! Vol. 1 that one realizes everything Nashville’s new country has been missing can be found wrapped up in a package that looks just like Jim Lauderdale.
His knack for crafting truly timeless music is simply astonishing — tunes like “Cautious” and “Are You Okay” are as close to perfect as you’ll find. Up-tempo cuts abound as well. The groove on “Right Where You Want Me” takes a little rhythmic note from Stax soul and winds it up into three minutes of hook laden country rock. Nashville session ace and Marty Stuart sideman Kenny Vaughn lays down smoking telecaster twang, languid washes of tremolo, and gorgeous melodic twists all over this album, making this an album to really dive into for guitar fans.
The quality and personality of Lauderdale’s music seems to present a paradox, as well: this is what country should sound like, but in order to do it right, an artist has to go with a free-thinking label like Yep Roc in order for it to be released. A major label would probably find it “too traditional” or frankly, “too country” to compete with what is currently trying to pass itself off as country music. It seems time and again, no matter what the genre, indie is the way to go for artists to maintain the control and expression they deserve.
Which brings us to Lauderdale’s second offering, Bluegrass. As easily as most of us tie our shoes, Lauderdale can shift gears into bluegrass. “Mighty Lonesome” hit me like a gentle explosion of sound, and bearing in mind that I’ve heard a lot of bluegrass this year, my gut said this was the best so far. Again, Lauderdale is backed by some of the finest pickers around with six-string virtuoso Bryan Sutton handling lead guitar duties and Randy Kohrs turning in some great Dobro playing.
As lush as that first track is, skip to “I’m Still Living For You” for a loping waltz that paints a deeper shade of blue on the grass. And for a taste of the “magical musical time machine” factor, crank up “It’s So Different” and tell me it’s not a radio broadcast from decades ago, complete with reverb drenched background vocals and vintage George Jones vibe. Good golly, this is good stuff.
To top things off, Jim Lauderdale will be displaying his remarkable musical wares at none other than Asheville’s Grey Eagle Music Hall Wednesday, Oct. 18. Whether he’ll draw from Country Super Hits! Vol. 1 or Bluegrass, or his extensive back catalog really won’t matter — all of it is sure to be exactly what any roots/americana/country/honkytonk fan needs.