Jim Lauderdale Releases his First Long Lost Album and Most Recent – ‘Time Flies’ and ‘Jim Lauderdale and Roland White’ (ALBUM REVIEWS)

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These associations come to mind with the mention of two-time Grammy winner Jim Lauderdale – “That’s Americana,” (for his emcee work with the Americana Music Association as well as hosting TV and radio shows); as well as ‘prolific’ and ‘eclectic’ to describe his album output. Performers who began their careers two decades ahead of Lauderdale haven’t released as many albums as he has. Lauderdale’s 30th and 31st studio albums respectively, Time Flies and Jim Lauderdale and Roland White marks the singer/songwriter’s return to the Yep Roc roster after a decade. Lauderdale, of course, has penned country hits for the likes of George Strait, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Vince Gill and others but has relentlessly pursued his own performance career at the same time. He’s genre agnostic, having recorded country, bluegrass, R&B, soul, pop, and jam band albums, performing live in straight-ahead country, bluegrass, rock, roots and even blues settings. As a sideman, he’s been in bands with Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller, and others.  His work with Miller, Williams and others in southern California in the early ‘90s was seminal to the birth of Americana. Yet, for many, he resides inexplicably under the radar.

Time Flies builds on Lauderdale’s recent work with Luther Dickinson and Nick Lowe in that country fuses with soul. It was produced by Lauderdale and Jay Weaver, recorded in Nashville, and is among one his best. There are credits to 13 different musicians here with versatile string man Chris Scruggs, Weaver on electric bass, Robbie Crowell on mostly keyboards, with Lillie Mae and Frank Rische on background vocals, sharing most of the load.  Lauderdale is a gifted lyricist with a flair for melody and emotive vocals to match.

The title track oozes soul, “The Road Is a River” hearkens back to ‘70s folk-rock, with Chris Scruggs and Kenny Vaughan on guitars.  Yet, with prolific comes experimentation. Lauderdale does swing and miss a few times. “Slow As Molasses” becomes too predictable both lyrically and musically. “Wild On Me Fast” and “While You’re Hoping” seem a bit whimsical, saved only by some tasteful jazz guitar. These three tunes are more pop-driven, moving away from Lauderdale’s country soul strength.

That same strength is exemplified though in the shuffle “Where The Cars Go By Fast” with Lillie Mae’s fiddle solo while “Wearing Out Your Cool” features an unexpected sax solo from Robbie Crowell.  “Blows My Mind” carries a Beatles-meet- Dwight Yoakam vibe, replete with a George Harrison slide guitar from Scruggs. “Slow Turn in the Road” is vintage country soul, accented by piano and pedal steel.  “Some Horses Run Free” begins with Dylan-like lyrics and phrasing before morphing into a country stomper. Lauderdale’s superb vocal on “If The World’s Still Here Tomorrow” reveals his mastery of classic country and is the perfect closer.

Given that the two albums are almost forty years apart, it’s interesting to listen to Lauderdale’s innate gift for soulful vocals and his deep musical passion on Jim Lauderdale and Roland White, his previously unreleased first full-length record, a collection of classic bluegrass, with a couple of his own songs too, recorded in the basement of Earl and Louise Scruggs’ Nashville home in the summer of 1979 and then lost for nearly four decades. Lauderdale was a Nashville newcomer at the time, while White was already a true bluegrass legend, known for his mastery of the mandolin and mainstay in such iconic groups as The Kentucky Colonels and Country Gazette. These master tapes were only recently rediscovered at the bottom of a box by White’s wife.

Here Lauderdale and White sing in duet format, with a palpable chemistry that suggests they’d been together for years. Amidst the company of stellar musicians with White on guitar and mandolin; and Marty Stuart on lead guitar the session sounds terrific. Yet, despite this seemingly auspicious beginning, the album was never released until now. Lauderdale began writing country hits for other singers and didn’t start his own recording career until the early ‘90s in California.  Of course, in the years that followed, Lauderdale proved his bluegrass mettle with several albums including two with Dr. Ralph Stanley. I Feel Like Singing Today was nominated for a Grammy.

The on-going legend of Jim Lauderdale, the face of Americana, continues.  He may not even know where his muse takes him next.

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