Jim Lauderdale’s 32nd studio album From Another World marks the singer/songwriter’s encore to last year’s acclaimed Times Flies. 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, partly due to his wandering muse which offers up so many styles.
”A long time ago, I decided that with each record, I would ignore the categories people tried to put me into and just make the music that was in my heart,” says Lauderdale. “This album is about the search for connection, love and understanding between people, about finding empathy in a world where it feels like the folks are more and more at loggerheads. When the world outside your window feels too tough to bear, I hope you’ll step into the world we’ve created here.”
That certainly sounds like a warm invitation. Rather than stray in a different direction this time, Lauderdale reunited with the team behind Time Flies, co-producer bassist Jay Weaver and Grammy Award-winning engineer David Leonard (Prince, John Mellencamp). He also stayed in the groove of writing solo and with vaunted co-writers including the legendary Melba Montgomery, Willie Nelson’s main man, Buddy Cannon, an emerging Americana artist Logan Ledger, with a dozen tracks. As you’ve gleaned from his quote, this is Lauderdale’s form of healing music, an answer to (or an escape from) the harsh divisiveness and amped up anger of today’s world. His sense for lyrics, melody, and vintage country sounds combined with his deep, resonant voice, make Lauderdale eminently listenable. He’s done so much in his career that one gets the sense he could write a song in minutes. And, yes, he can but these are well-crafted indeed. Lauderdale is a master of the two-four minute song.
The single, “The Secrets of the Pyramids” is a contemporary, slightly psychedelic take on traditional country with its theme being the eternal search for greater love and understanding. Harmonies come courtesy of Lille Mae and her brother Frank Rische. The opening “Some Horses Run Free” is a rocker imbued with touches of psychedelia and ringing electric guitars. “When You Can’t Have What Your Heart Wants” brings in more traditional country sounds with tremolo guitar and weeping pedal steel, but again the musical accompaniment is rich with piano, harmony vocals, and lush production effects.
”Like People From Another World” takes a more conventional country path as does the pedal steel-driven “One Away” and the touching “For Keeps.” Lauderdale becomes tender as he speaks of admonitions on “Listen.” He’s clearly seeking a world with more humility and harmony. Momentum picks up, ironically, with “Slow Turn in the Road,” again marked by pounding piano and searing guitar. The classic honky-tonk sound follows with “I’ll Forgive You If You Don’t.” “Graceland Horses,” with its acoustic guitar and atmospheric pedal steel is a gorgeous standout track, hearkening back to one of the too many overlooked Lauderdale albums, Headed for the Hills.
Lauderdale is at his poetic best in the uplifting country “Ever Living Loving Day” and then, in typical unpredictable fashion, closes with the funked-up, revved-up “Are You Trying To Make a Song Out of Us?” This one lives up to the high-quality standards that Lauderdale brings to every record he makes. It’s just as strong as his last one, as we’ve come to expect. Some of these melodies will linger in your head for days so let your friends and associates forgive you if you seem lost in another world. It’s meant to be that way.