Jim Lauderdale: Americana’s Country Journeyman Returns to L.A.

By Terry Paul Roland

With a career as diverse as the emerging genre we call ‘Americana,’ Jim Lauderdale continues on the same track toward collaboration, generosity and an imagination fused with the influence of Country and Bluegrass traditions.  His December, 2012 release with musical cohort, Buddy Miller, is a collection of songs, some covers and some originals, that focuses on the tight harmony vocal approach eschewing style over the feel and soul of the song. It’s a typical move for Lauderdale who has made a career as a kind of journeyman in the traditional country and bluegrass genres, which includes Grammy winning gigs with Ralph Stanley (Lost in the Lonesome Pines) and a three album collection with Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter.   His last album with Hunter, the solo effort, Carolina Moonrise, was among the best albums of 2012 transcending all genres.

Breaking down barriers has emerged as the key defining factor of Americana music and Lauderdale, especially over the last decade, has led the movement.   He is now on the road doing both solo shows and duo shows with Buddy Miller.  After a ‘JimFest’ weekend in Joshua Tree at Pappy & Harriet’s, Lauderdale is in Los Angeles to help announce the Americana Music Associations nominations for the year’s best at the Grammy museum along with Buddy Miller, T-Bone Burnett,  Elizabeth Cook and Lisa Marie Presley on Tuesday morning, May 14th.  That evening he will join Buddy Miller and band for a duo show at L.A.’s historic Troubadour, which has seen everyone from Willie Nelson to Tom Waits on its stage over the last 50 years.

“I’ve only played there a few times. It was like a hallowed place to play.  The walls contain so much history,”  Lauderdale said of the Troubadour.

Of course, Jim Lauderdale’s no stranger to L.A. country. He spoke fondly of sharing the bill with singer-songwriter Carla Olson at North Hollywood’s Palomino when she was collaborating with Byrds Legend, Gene Clark in the late 80’s. During our conversation he asked for a special mention of one of L.A.’s most avid country fans and artists, Ronnie Mack. “I’d really like to give a special shout-out to Ronnie. Buddy and I played his Barn Dance when it was at the Palomino a few times.  He really helped sustain the country music scene out there. He was a real fixture. We all owe him a lot!”  Lauderdale said emphatically.

According to Lauderdale there was an inspiration behind the making this first album with Miller, a friend since they first met in New York City in the 80’s.

“We had this concept we’d been talking about for 17 years. We wanted to do an album together, but we weren’t thinking of a concept duet record at first,” he said.

However, while much of their solo recordings stay solidly in roots-country, they found themselves reaching for something more as they worked together in the studio.

“We started finding this blend that fell somewhere between the Louvin Brothers and Sam & Dave,” Lauderdale laughed.  “Buddy started out wanting to do a tribute album to his favorite harmony singers, Johnnie & Jack, but we ended up doing an album paying tribute to all of these various duo artists,” he added.

Even so, the album is, not a collection of covers, but a romp through the sonic land of timeless duos like The Everly Brothers, all the while, with a wink and a grin, coming up with a fresh duo sound of their own. It’s sometimes rough and funky (“Lost My Job of Loving You”) and sometimes bright and rocking(“The Wobble”). But, the album, produced by Miller, never loses its site on the fun of working together with a friend. This keeps the proceedings in the solid land of good-natured fun.

With two of the finest solo artists in Americana today who are both known as songwriters, performers, instrumentalists and producers, the expectation was high for this album. But, rather than going for a musical monument to themselves, in characteristic and unpretentious fashion, the two have instead created a tribute to the vocal duo as a form throughout American music history.  The result comes off as spontaneous as The Traveling Wilburys with a decidedly funky country-blues bent.

The added gift of this album is the inclusion of songs written by Buddy & Julie Miller, “That’s Not Why I Love You,” and Miller and Lauderdale collaborations, “I Lost My Job of Loving You,” and a Grammy worthy turn on Julie Miller’s song, “It Hurts Me.”

The covers are so well balanced and conceived, it feels as though they could have been written for this project.  On “I Want To Do Everything For You,” they mine the soul vibe that is embedded in much of southern country and rock. The song was first popularized by Joe Tex in the 60’s, a near-forgotten Texas soul singer who rivaled James Brown at one time. The performance works with a back and forth between the two artists that reflects their rapport and friendship.

It’s that long-time bond between the artists that make this collaboration work so well. There is a feel as though there is a rare party going on and we’re all invited to the festivities.  Buddy & Jim is quite simply one of the rare gems of this or any year in American music; an album of collaborative creativity, high energy and a deeply felt passion for the singers of songs.

George Jones and Jim Lauderdale

When asked about recent milestones in country music; the death of George Jones and Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday, Lauderdale sighed about George Jones.

“Well, there are some artists who changed everything in country music. He was one of them. He will be missed. His voice hit so many people so deeply.”

There was a sweet irony to the week Jones died falling within days of Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday.

“I worked with Willie a few years back on his Country Music album. We had a really good time. He had such a struggle as an artist early on, even after his songs became famous, but everyone knew it was just a matter of time. His talent runs so deep. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in his position, but he keeps going. He’s so good with his fans. He’s so generous and a really kind person,” Lauderdale said.

As the nominees for 2013’s Americana Music Association’s awards are unveiled in Los Angeles, it won’t be surprising to see Buddy and Jim among the nominees. Even though both have their share of AMA awards, it would be hard to pass over this infectious collection.  Regardless Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale’s efforts collectively and independently will continue to shape the present and the future of Americana music as they lead the way through passionate and diverse music that acknowledges the heart of the history of America’s best music.

Jim Lauderdale will be performing in LA with Buddy Miller at the Troubadour on Tuesday May 14. Click here for tickets.


Terry Roland

Terry Roland

Terry Paul Roland was born in West Texas, grew up in Southern California absorbing music as diverse as Buddy Holly, Love, The Doors, Hanks Williams, The Beach Boys and Woody Guthrie. His past features and interview subjects have included country and roots singer-songwriters Jimmie Dale Gilmore, John Prine, Butch Hancock, Iris Dement, Ricky Skaggs, Blame Sally, Peter Case, Mary Gauthier, The Jayhawks, Taj Mahal and David Lindley. His articles and interviews have been prasied for their insights and unique perspective on some of today’s finest singer-songwriters. He also publishes with San Diego Troubadour, FolkWorks, No Depression and Sun209.
Terry Roland
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