Jim Lauderdale is a musician’s musician, an artist’s artist, a songwriter’s songwriter. In short, he’s not a household name. That is unless your household contains music by Elvis Costello (Lauderdale sang all of the harmony vocals on Costello’s superb Secret, Profane and Sugarcane from 2009), Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Shelby Lynne, John Mayall, George Strait, Lucinda Williams, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Lee Ann Womack, Dwight Yoakam, Charlie Louvin, George Jones, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Tanya Tucker … heard enough?
You see, Lauderdale’s written songs for or provided vocals for all of these artists and tons more. His music should be labeled Tall-in-the-Saddle Country; it’s straight-forward, no-nonsense music that’s entirely listenable, sounding simultaneously old and new.
Patchwork River features the combined collaborative efforts of Lauderdale and longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. The two have written together since 2000, and, according to Hunter, have been cranking out “a phenomenal amount” of music together.
The first noticeable characteristic of Patchwork is its distinctly American sound. Lauderdale’s smooth, syrupy voice — warm as worn leather or good whiskey — leads us on a crosscountry tour from Kentucky, Ohio, El Dorado, New York, and the hollars of Tennessee on such tunes as “Louisville Roll,” “Alligator Alley,” “Winnona” and “Turned to Stone”, a wonderfully evokative Medusa-tale of a witchy old woman who was thought to turn children into stone, and a younger woman who does the same to the adult narrator.
Lauderdale shouts “I wanna tell you ’bout that time … about the good ol’ days … what’s your hurry, here’s your hat,” on the slinky Louisiana stomp of “Jawbone,” where Juanita Perez is always the central theme of Jawbone’s wide-ranging historic tales.
“Alligator Alley” is so atmospheric, music and lyrics so in sync that you can almost feel the heat coming off the burning Everglades and from the merciless sun above, pounding down on a hitchhiker trying to escape hell on earth.
There is curious juxtaposition on “Up My Sleeve” and the next cut “Far In The Far Away,” with the former dealing with fate and the grace of patience, while the latter focuses a melancholy eye on distancing oneself from a past that isn’t worth wondering with regret “what might have been.” “Between Your Heart and Mine” rounds out a triptych of the most heartfelt and drippingly sweet country songs in recent memory.
“El Dorado” with its windblown guitar riffs, is a mysterious country rocker, and “Winnona” and “My Lips Are Sealed” are about as solid as and gritty as rockin’ country songs get. The only disappointment is “Good Together,” a rather tired tale of begged-for second chances better left unuttered. You get the impression this couple isn’t really that good together.
Lauderdale’s deft melodies and Hunter’s rough-yet-gentle lyrics are a perfect match.
Patchwork River, written at Hunter’s California home, features Doug Lancio, James Burton, Al Perkins, Ron Tutt, Garry Tallent, Kenny Vaughan, and Patty Griffin.
Listen to samples of the album HERE. Release date is May 11th.