My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Jim Lauderdale

Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Fly’

NOTE: This is the second time we’ve done a feature on Fly. Check out Chris’ take on the album from March 2009, which was formed as a discussion around whether or not the album deserved to be legendary, by clicking HERE. Also, his post promoted a 27 comment discussion well worth reading. 

Dixie Chicks built on the phenomenal success of Wide Open Spaces with Fly, their second album for Monument Records. It was released in late August 1999 and established them as the foremost superstars of the era, on par with Shania Twain.

The ambitious set redefined how a country album could sound both melodically and lyrically. This is when they began courting controversy, painting outside the lines, and rewriting the rules of Nashville. There wasn’t a single artist at the time or since that has perfected or improved upon the formula they perfected with Fly — a solid foundation of traditional country mixed with a pop sensibility with a collection, and this is the key, of intelligent well-written songs. Fly is an album of talent and substance absent of fluff or filler.

A sign that the Dixie Chicks were heading places came in June 1999 when the album’s lead single “Ready To Run” was subsequently featured as a single from the soundtrack to the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere RomCom Runaway Bride. The Celtic flavored tune, co-written by Martie Seidel and Marcus Hummon, hit #2.

They shot back to the top of the charts with the album’s instantly iconic second single “Cowboy Take Me Away,” also co-written by the pair. The title was inspired by the slogan used in commercials for Calgon and the lyric was in tribute to Emily’s marriage to Charlie Robison. It’s a brilliant record from start to finish, with Sediel’s gorgeous fiddle riffs and Robison’s banjo licks proving the perfect backdrop for Natalie Maines’ passionate vocal. It’s one of the band’s signature songs and rightfully so.

What followed was a black comedy detailing the saga of Marianne and Wanda, the latter of who met and married a man named Earl, who physically abused her. The song, written by Dennis Linde, brings the women’s fight for justice to the forefront as they murder Earl and bury him in a shallow grave. The subject matter of “Goodbye Earl” proved a tough pill for country radio to swallow and the track stalled at #13.

They rebounded with their version of Richard Leigh’s “Cold Day In July,” which was originally recorded (separately) by Suzy Bogguss and Joy Lynne White in 1992. Commenters on country blogs have favored the other women’s versions more, but since I’m only intimately familiar with the trio’s take on the song, which hit #4, and it’s the version I heard first, it’s the one I’ll always prefer.

“Without You,” the album’s second #1, is purely pop with country instrumentation. Maines co-wrote it about the demise of her first marriage, and while it isn’t as sharp as “You Were Mine,” it still soars with heartache. Maines’ vocal, which allows her stretch and use her lower register, is a revelation.

You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten any of the remaining singles released from the album. Although it hit #3, their take on Matraca Berg’s “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me” isn’t terribly memorable. The album’s eighth and final single, “Some Days You Gotta Dance,” has a nice groove and works well live, but falls into the same territory. It hit #7.

Sandwiched between them is arguably one of the strongest songs they ever sent to country radio. “Heartbreak Town” is Darrell Scott’s take on making it in music city and tells the story of a couple and their baby heading to Nashville and getting rejected by the industry. The record, which hit #23, is a masterpiece:

Hugged your friends

Kissed your mama goodbye

Baby in your arms and a tear in your eye

Twelve hundred miles and you never asked why

From me

 

Me and the baby and you side by side

We all knew we was in for a long hard ride

Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide it seemed

We honked the horn when we crossed the

State line

Woke up the baby and she started to cry

She must’ve known

What we were going to find

 

This ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town

Square people in a world that’s round

And they watch you dancin’ without the sound

It ain’t nothin’ no nothin’

You take your number and you stand in line

And they watch to see how high you’re gonna climb

Pat on the back and better luck next time

It ain’t nothin’ no it ain’t nothin’ but a heartbreak town

 

Stardust well it’s a funny thing

It can make you cuss

It can make you sing

And the need to touch it gets hard to explain some days

 

I’ve seen ’em rise

I’ve seen ’em fall

Some get nothin’

And lord some get it all

Some just run

While others crawled away

 

Hold my hand baby don’t let go

I’ve got some front money

And I’ve got a next show

And I’m, I’m gonna need you

Down this yellow brick road

The album tracks are almost as iconic as the singles, especially “Sin Wagon,” which got its origins from the movie Grease. The film is one of Maines’ favorites, and she co-wrote the bluegrass barnburner with Emily Erwin and Stephony Smith. The lyric caught the attention of the trio’s record label, who objected their use of the term ‘mattress dacin’ in the second verse. Maines doubled down and repeated the line for emphasis, a sign that as far back as 1999 she wasn’t going to make nice with anyone.

“Hello Mr. Heartache” is the album’s most traditional number and another masterful record. “Let Him Fly” is their first association with Patty Griffin, Maines’ favorite singer-songwriter of all time. “Hole In My Head” was written by Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller and showed off their Americana leanings.

Fly is simply one of the greatest contemporary commercial country records ever made. It rightfully won them both the Grammy for Best Country Album and the CMA for Album of the Year. It’s gone on to sell more than ten million copies and inspired their first headlining trek in 2000, the year they were crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year. They richly deserved every accolade that came their way.

Grade: A+ 

 

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Album Review: Dixie Chicks — ‘Shouldn’t A Told You That’

The departure of Robin Lynn Macy following Little Ol’ Cowgirl left the Dixie Chicks (billed here as “The Dixie Chicks Cowgirl Band”) as a trio when they released their third album, Shouldn’t A Told You That, in November 1993. It would feature the remaining members, The Erwin sisters and Laura Lynch, and stand as their final release before Natalie Maines replaced Lynch in 1995.

The ten-track album features an impressive lineup of songs by some of independent country’s top singer-songwriters. They open with Radney Foster’s co-written “Whistles and Bells,” an excellent traditional shuffle about a woman giving a stern warning to her ex about the woman he’s currently dating:

I see her running round this town in her fancy car
A girl who can’t afford your hopes and dreams
But darlin’ all those pretty toys won’t help your broken heart
When she’s through and sends you packin’ back to me

Whistles and bells won’t ever bring you love and happiness
She’s never gonna give her heart the way that I would give
She’s got you spinning round in circles, I can tell
With her lights, buzzers, whistles, and bells

Austin based singer-songwriter Walter Hyatt wrote the title track, a barnburner driven by Emily’s banjo that nicely foreshadowed their more mainstream sound in the years to come. “Desire,” which is bright, uptempo, and laced with fiddle and dobro, was co-written by Kim Richey. The gorgeous and affecting “There Goes My Dream,” about a woman watching her man walk away, was solely composed by Jamie O’Hara.

The album’s most recognizable song, at least to fans of alternative country, is Jim Lauderdale and John Leventhal’s “Plant of Love,” which was the title track to Lauderdale’s debut album two years earlier. Their version is brilliant, with a sparsity that lets their exquisite harmonies shine. “Planet of Love” is paired with the shot hidden track “Boo Hoo,” which gives their harmonies another pleasing spin. It’s a weird little gem and it sounds me to me like they were playing spoons as their instruments.

Lynch has two writing credits on the album. The first, “I’m Falling Again,” is a beautiful ballad about new love she co-wrote with Martie, Emily, and Matthew Benjamin. The other song, “The Thrill is in the Chase” is mid-tempo and allows Martie’s fiddle work to take center stage.

Benjamin also appears as a co-writer on “One Heart Away,” a mid-tempo ballad anchored by fiddle and dobro. He wrote “I Wasn’t Looking for You,” a mid-paced ballad about falling accidentally in love, solo. “I’ve Only Got Myself To Blame” returns the album back to its uptempo leanings, with a heavy dose of fiddle and banjo.

This is without question the most polished of their independent albums and showcases their move towards a distinctly mainstream sound. The selection of songs, just like with every Dixie Chicks album, remains exquisite. I do disagree with Paul Dennis’ view that Lynch wasn’t a distinctive lead vocalist. Although she isn’t anywhere near the caliber of Maines, and honestly no one is really, if you think about it, she carries this album wonderfully.

While the Dixie Chicks were headed towards a mainstream sound, Shouldn’t A Told You That is still very much alt-country and keeps with the likes of Kelly Willis more than Trisha Yearwood or Pam Tillis. None of that matters in the end, though, as Shouldn’t A Told You That is a fine album on its own.

Grade: A

The best reissues of 2018

It wasn’t a great year for reissues but there were some bright spots. As always our British and European friends lead the way. Also, please note that these can take a while for foreign titles to become available from US suppliers, so it may be into 2019 before these are generally available.

In those cities that still have adequate recorded music stores (sadly, a rare commodity these days), it can be a real thrill finding a label you’ve not encountered before reissuing something you’ve spent decades seeking. It can be worthwhile to seek out the foreign affiliates of American labels for recordings that the American affiliate hasn’t reissued. For example, there are Capitol recordings not reissued in the US that are available on the UK or European EMI labels. For the rest of us, scanning the internet remains the best alternative.

Unfortunately as the sales of physical CDs continue to plummet, so does the willingness of labels, domestic and foreign, to invest in reissuing material by second and third tier artists. Still missing in action are the catalogues of such significant artists as Liz Anderson, Wilma Burgess, Johnny Darrell, Jack Greene, The Hager Twins, Freddie Hart, Warner Mack, Kenny Price and David Rogers. While there has been a slight uptick in vinyl sales and reissues, most of that has been of only the very top selling artists (and at $22 to $33 per title).
Anyway …

The British label Jasmine issued a number of worthy country releases:

Billy WalkerWell, Hello There – The Country Chart Hits and More 1954-1962. The album features most of Billy’s biggest Columbia hits in decent sound.

Johnny CashChange of Address – The Single As and Bs 1958-1962. This release is somewhat redundant as it collects the A&B sides of Cash’s first sixteen Columbia singles. The songs are available elsewhere, but it is nice to have the singles all in one place.

Kitty WellsI Heard The Juke Box Playing. This two CD set features Kitty’s 1950s solo hits plus a bunch of (not readily available) duets with the likes of Roy Acuff, Webb Pierce and Red Foley. While much of this material had been available in the past, it had been allowed to slip out of print so it is nice to have it available again.

The Collins KidsRockin’ and Boppin’. Lorrie and Larry Collins were teenage rockabilly artists backed by the cream of California’s country musicians. Their material has been unavailable for quite a while.

Jasmine isn’t specifically a country label with much of their output being R&B and Rock ‘n Roll, but their country reissues are always welcome. Jasmine also issued an early Homer & Jethro collection from their recordings on King Records, a Lee Hazlewood collection and several mixed artists albums during 2018.

Another British label, Ace Records, usually does a nice job with reissues. Unfortunately, 2018 was a sparse year for country reissues with a Johnny Lee Wills reissue (available only as a digital download) being about it this year.

The British Hux label had a light year as far as country reissues was concerned issuing nothing (that I have been able to find), but they did have a mid-2017 release that slipped my notice last year, a nice Dickey Lee reissue comprised of Dickey’s first two RCA albums from 1971 & 1972 in Never Ending Song Of Love / Ashes Of Love. Dickey Lee was far more successful as a songwriter than as a recording artist, but this pair features four of his hits plus some other songs he wrote including “She Thinks I Still Care”.

The British Humphead label has received criticism for using needle drops but they’ve gotten better at the process and in many cases, theirs are the only available (non-remake) recordings by the artist.

In October Humphead issued the Connie Smith collection My Part of Forever (Vol. 1), comprised of mainly her 1970s recording including tracks recorded for Warner Bros., in the mid-1990s, Sugar Hill in 2011, and rare lost radio performances from the early 1970s. Many of these tracks have been previously unavailable – a real find.

Humphead also had released a three CD Ed Bruce collection and a two CD best of the Kentucky Headhunters collection.

The British BGO label finished its reissue series of Charley Pride’s RCA catalogue with its two CD set consisting of The Best of Charley Pride Volumes 1-3 and Charley Pride’s Greatest Hits VI. At this time virtually everything from Charley Pride’s landmark RCA tenure is now available on CD, either from BGO or from other sources.

BGO also released a two CD set of Charlie McCoy’s first four albums on Monument (The Real McCoy / Charlie McCoy / Good Time Charlie / The Fastest Harp In The South). They are good, but rather more harmonica than I care to listen to at one sitting,

Other BGO sets can be found here.

Germany’s Bear Family Records has been the gold standard for reissues; however, this was a rather quiet year on the country side of the business. On the other hand, the one truly significant set released is a doozy. Bear had previously released vinyl and CD boxed sets on the legendary Lefty Frizzell. In October Bear released a greatly expanded twenty CD set titled An Article From Life – The Complete Recordings. The original Bear set was beyond great and if I had unlimited cash reserves I would buy this set which includes the following:

• Every 45, 78, and LP track from Lefty’s entire career. Every unissued session recording
• Newly-discovered demos and non-session recordings
• Newly-researched biography and discography
• Many previously unseen photos from the Frizzell family’s archives
• A new designed 264 page hardcover book!
• Many previously unissued recordings – a total of 12 CDs of music.
• An audio book on 8 CDs with Lefty’s life history, written and read by his brother David.

As for domestic reissues our friend Ken Johnson helps keep the folks at Varese Vintage on the straight and narrow for their country releases. This year Varese only had one country album released which occurred in November, when Varese issued the John Denver collection Leaving On A Jet Plane. This isn’t really country, but Denver was heavily played on country radio., These tracks come from the 1960s when Denver was part of a late edition of the Mitchell Trio and part of the successor group Denver, Boise and Johnson. The collection features John’s first recordings of “Leaving On A Jet Plane”.

Although not really a reissue, Yep Rock released a nice Jim Lauderdale/ Roland White collaboration that had never before been released. We reviewed it in September 2018 here.

Sony Legacy controls the rights to Columbia/CBS, Epic, RCA, Monument and some other labels as well. In May 2018, Sony Legacy released Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s, a nice two CD set of “Outlaw Era” country. The thirty-six song collection is hardly essential but it is a nice introduction to the era, showcasing the obvious artists along with the likes of Marcia Ball, Rodney Crowell, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Willis Alan Ramsey. This label seems to be Willie Nelson’s current label for new material

Omnivore Recordings spent several years releasing the recordings of Buck Owens. In May of this year they released The Complete Capitol Singles: 1967-1970, a two CD set that seems to have completed their coverage of Buck’s peak period. Since then they have issued Country Singer’s Prayer, the never released last Capitol album, and Tom Brumley’s Steelin’ The Show, featuring Buckaroo and Buck Owens tracks on which Tom’s pedal steel was prominently featured. Neither of the latter two albums are essential but the Brumley collection highlights just what a great steel player was Tom Brumley.

Earlier in 2018, Omnivore released a Don Gibson collection featuring most of Don’s hits on Hickory plus some album tracks.

***

I suppose I should again say a few words about the Gusto family of labels. It appears that Gusto still is in the process of redesigning their website, but plenty of product can be found from other on-line vendors or from retail outlets such as Pottery Barn and various truck stops along the Interstates.

As I mentioned previously, with the exception of the numerous gospel recordings made by Porter Wagoner during the last decade of his life, there is little new or original material on the Gusto Family of labels. Essentially, everything Gusto does is a reissue, but they are forever recombining older recordings into new combinations.

Gusto has accumulated the catalogs of King, Starday, Dixie, Federal, Musicor, Step One, Little Darlin’ and various other small independent labels and made available the music of artists that are otherwise largely unavailable. Generally speaking, older material on Gusto’s labels is more likely to be original recordings. This is especially true of bluegrass recordings with artists such as Frank “Hylo” Brown, The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Stringbean and Curley Fox being almost exclusive to Gusto.

After 1970, Gusto’s labels tended to be old age homes for over-the-hill country and R&B artists, and the recordings often were remakes of the artists’ hits of earlier days or a mixture of remakes of hits plus covers of other artists’ hits. These recordings range from inspired to tired and the value of the CDs can be excellent, from the fabulous boxed sets of Reno & Smiley, Mel Street and The Stanley Brothers, to wastes of plastic and oxides with numerous short eight and ten song collections.

To be fair, some of these eight and ten song collections can be worth having, if they represent the only recordings you can find by a particular artist you favor. Just looking at the letter “A” you can find the following: Roy Acuff, Bill Anderson, Lynn Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Leon Ashley, Ernie Ashworth, Chet Atkins and Gene Autry. If you have a favorite first or second tier country artist of the 1960s or 1970s, there is a good chance that Gusto has an album (or at least some tracks) on that artist.

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale and Randy Kohrs – ‘Can We Find Forgiveness’

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale and Patty Loveless – ‘Halfway Down’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘This Changes Everything’

It was back to traditional country for Jim’s 2016 release This Changes Everything, recorded in Texas with a strongly Texas flavour to the music. Steel guitarist Tommy Detamore produced, and a number of Texas mainstays formed the backing band. Most of the record was produced in a single all-day session.

The opening track, written with Texan singer-songwriter Bruce Robison, is a very nice conversational, steel laden song about falling in love. It would be ideal for George Strait (who did record this record’s ‘We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This’). Robison also co-wrote the gentle ‘There Is A Horizon’. A singer-songwriter of a more recent vintage, Hayes Carll, is the co-writer on ‘Drive’, a rather laid back sounding song about being on the road written very much in Carll’s voice.

Sunny Sweeney adds her distinctive harmony on the engaging ‘All The Rage In Paris’, about being a superstar local act – in Paris, Texas, and environs. ‘You Turn Me Around’, written with Terry McBride, is a charming Western Swing number. Buddy Cannon and Kendell Marvel joined Jim to write ‘Nobody’s Fault’, a laidback song about falling in and out of love.

‘Lost In The Shuffle’, written with Odie Blackmon, is the most delightful of several traditional country shuffles with glorious fiddle from Bobby Flores. ‘It All Started And Ended With you’, written with Frank Dycus, has a mournful feel, helped by the gorgeous steel and Jim’s plaintive wail. Dycus also co-wrote the romantic love song ‘I’ll Still Be Around’ and the sober cheating song ‘The Weakness Of Two Hearts’.

This is an excellent album which has become one of my favorites of Jim’s work.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale and Roland White

We interrupt this program to present an album that was recorded before ANY of the albums we’ve reviewed up to this point. Lost for many years, the masters for this album were recently recovered and are now released for your listening pleasure by the good folks at Yep Roc.

It has always been the case that musicians and singers have been quicker to recognize Lauderdale’s talents than record executives, radio programmers and the general public.

Lauderdale arrived in Nashville and started hanging around with Roland White, brother of the legendary guitarist Clarence White, and then (as now) one of the great mandolin players. Roland was (and is) an astute judge of talent and saw in Lauderdale an up and comer. White arranged to cut an album with Lauderdale in Earl Scruggs’ home studio with a band that included Marty Stuart on guitar, Gene Wooten on Dobro, Johnny Warren (of current Earls of Leicester fame) on fiddle, and of course White on mandolin. For reasons I will never understand the album was never released and presumed lost.

The album is comprised of two Lauderdale originals and ten songs from the folk and bluegrass canon.

The album opens with a Lauderdale original “Forgive & Forget” that has the sound of a burnished country classic. The song is taken at a medium fast tempo with fine fiddle and Dobro solos and that country harmony.

“Gold and Silver” comes from the pen of Shirley “Milo” Legate. I don’t know much about him, but it is a fine song that was originally recorded by George Jones. Legate also wrote some songs for Sonny James and placed bass for Sonny as part of his Southern Gentlemen.

“(Stone Must Be) the Walls Built Around Your Heart” is an old classic Don-Reno & Red Smiley composition on which Jim sings the verses and Roland joins in on the chorus.

Clyde Moody is largely forgotten now, but he was a fine singer and songwriter whose “Six White Horses” is a song that fits in the cracks between folk and bluegrass. Dobro dominates the arrangement on this bluesy song, but there is also a nice walking bass line in the song.

L-Mack penned “I Might Take You Back Again”, a mid-tempo song about a fellow contemplating taking his wayward love back.

Donovan Leitch (a/k/a “Donovan), a Scottish folk singer, was a major pop star in the US, UK and Australia with his greatest success in the UK. “Catch The Wind” was top five in the UK and Australia but just missed the top twenty in the US. While not his biggest hit, it is probably his most covered tune, covered by nearly every folk act and many country and pop acts. Even Flatt & Scruggs covered the song

In the chilly hours and minutes
Of uncertainty, I want to be
In the warm hold of your loving mind
To feel you all around me
And to take your hand, along the sand
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind

“Don’t Laugh” was a classic brother-style duet originally performed by Rebe Gosdin & Rabe Perkins.
Gosdin wrote the song which is definitely part of the bluegrass canon. I’ve heard recordings by the County Gentlemen, the Louvin Brothers and J. D. Crowe and have heard other acts perform the song in live concert . Rebe may have been a distant relative of country great Vern Gosdin.

If I cry when I kiss you when we say goodbye
Don’t laugh, don’t laugh
If I say I’ve always loved you and I will til I die
Don’t laugh, don’t laugh

I could never find another there’s no use for me to try
I beg of you my darling, please don’t laugh if I cry
If I say I’ve always loved you and I will til I die
Don’t laugh, don’t laugh

“Regrets and Mistakes” is the other Lauderdale original on the album. The song is a slow ballad with Lauderdale singing lead and White singing an echo and harmony. The song is nothing special but it definitely is not out of place on this album.

It is rather difficult to categorize Shel Silverstein as a songwriter – he was all over the place. On “February Snow” Shel serves as a straight-ahead ballad writer. Bobby Bare recorded the song on an album.

“That’s What You Get) For Loving Me” was written by Gordon Lightfoot, and covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Peter, Paul & Mary, Waylon Jennings and Ian & Sylvia. In fact, it was Waylon’s first top ten single.

That’s what you get for lovin’ me
That’s what you get for lovin’ me
Ev’ry thing you had is gone
As you can see
That’s what you get for lovin’ me

I ain’t the kind to hang around
With any new love that I found
‘Cause movin’ is my stock in trade
I’m movin’ on
I won’t think of you when I’m gone

The album closes with a pair of Alton Delmore compositions “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar”and “Nashville Blues”. The Delmore Brothers were perhaps the quintessential brother act. Roland and Jim do them proud .

My only criticism of the album is that I would like for Roland’s mandolin to have been a little more forward in the mix. Lauderdale mostly sings the leads, and while he is a good guitar player, I think he left the pickin’ to the ace musicians that Roland collected for the project – when you look at the names below, you’ll see that leaving the pickin’ to them could never be a mistake.

im Lauderdale – vocals
Roland White – vocals, mandolin
Stan Brown – banjo
Terry Smith – bass
Marty Stuart – guitar
Johnny Warren – fiddle
Gene Wooten – dobro

To me this album is a very solid A.

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – ‘The Day The Devil Changed’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – The Bluegrass Diaries

Jim Lauderdale may be one of the most eclectic artists we have ever covered here at MKOC, but he has an enduring love for bluegrass and has recorded several records in that style. In 2006 he had released two albums simultaneously, Country Super Hits Vol 11, which Jonathan reviewed the other day, and Bluegrass, another excellent effort. The following year he doubled up on his traditonal bluegrass stylings for The Bluegrass Diaries on Yep Roc Records. Produced by the multi-talented Randy Kohrs and featuring all self-penned originals, it won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.

The record opens with ‘This Is The Last Time (I’m Ever Gonna Hurt)’, written with Odie Blackmon, which features an archetypal high mountain wailing vocal and an optimistic lyric about moving on from heartbreak. Blackmon also co-wrote ‘Chances’, a ballad with some very pretty fiddle about struggling with sin.

The intensely yearning ‘Can We Find Forgiveness’ is another strong track about sin and redemption. Bluegrass star Dave Evans adds harmony vocals on this track and on ‘It’s Such A Long Journey Home’. This is a beautiful ballad which Jim wrote with Candace Rudolph in the Appalachian old-time tradition about the longing for home and a loved one.

‘I Wanted To Believe’ is a regretful song about a failed relationship; Cia Cherryholmes provides a harmony vocal. ‘Looking For A Good Place To Land’, written with Shawn Camp (who plays acoustic guitar throughout), is very pleasant. Paul Craft co-wrote ‘Are You Having Second Thoughts?’, a pretty, tender ballad with tight harmonies from Ashley Brown. ‘One Blue Mule’, in contrast, is a fast paced semi-humorous number set in the Gold Rush, with some super picking.

Melba Montgomery co-wrote the gentle ‘All Roads Lead Back To You’, while J D Souther contributed to ‘My Somewhere Just Got Here’, a solemn love song. Both songwriters joined Jim for the entertaining up-tempo closing track, ‘Ain’t No Way To Run’, in which he calls the bluff of a partner who keeps on threatening to leave. The musicians really get the chance to stretch out here.

This is an excellent bluegrass album, well worth catching up with.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale and Ralph Stanley – ‘I Feel Like Singing Today’

After success as a mainstream songwriter, Jim Lauderdale turned his sights on bluegrass with 2002’s I FEEL LIKE SINGING TODAY, the first of two collaborations with Dr. Ralph Stanley on the Dualtone label.

I noticed that Wikipedia has this album listed as being released on the Rebel label in 1999, so perhaps Dualtone bought the masters for this album for re-release in 2002. Whatever the case, I’m glad to own the album.

Since the 1979 album with Roland White would not be released for many years, this is Jim’s official first bluegrass album. Since Dr. Ralph is as venerated as any performer in the folk/acoustic/bluegrass field of music, I guess you’d have to say Jim started at the top with his collaborations. Jim and Ralph were familiar with each other prior to recording this project as the two had traded guest appearances on each other’s albums (Lauderdale’s WHISPER and Stanley’s CLINCH MOUNTAIN COUNTRY ).

Lauderdale wrote or co-wrote 9 of the 15 tunes on this album and the originals blend in nicely with the bluegrass canon.

“Who Thought That the Railroad Wouldn’t Last,” the title track and “Joy, Joy, Joy” (co-written with Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead are up-tempo tunes that allow the Clinch Mountain Boys to show their wares. Two other Lauderdale originals “Another Sinner’s Prayer” and “Like Him,” feature Ralph Stanley , who excels in gospel performances, whether with accompaniment or a cappella.

Since bluegrass audiences always want some of the genre’s traditional fare, there are six classics covered, including “You’ll Find Her Name Written There (Harol Hensley), Maple On The Hill” (Gussie Davis) “What About You” (Jack Anglin, Jim Anglin, Johnnie Wright), “This Home Is Not My Home” (traditional), “Harbor of Love” (Carter Stanley), and ”Who Will Sing For Me” (Carter Stanley).

If you like bluegrass, you’ll love this album. If bluegrass isn’t your thing, you’ll likely still like it, because of the well-crafted songs and the fine vocal pairing. While Lauderdale takes most of the lead vocals, Jim knew even then that there are certain songs that just scream for Ralph Stanley to sing, particularly, and like any dutiful apprentice, Jim lets the master sing the leads on those songs

It is difficult for me to pick out a favorite song but I do have great fondness for the two Carter Stanley compositions. Here’s a sample of the lyrics of “Who Will Sing For Me”

If I sing for my friends
When death’s cold hand I see
When I reach my journey’s end
Who will sing one song for me?
I wonder (I wonder) who
Will sing (will sing) for me
When I’m called to cross that silent sea
Who will sing for me?

Jim is a competent musician, but on this album he and Ralph sing, leaving the instrument chores to Ralph’s Clinch Mountain Boys: James Cooke – acoustic bass & baritone vocals; James Alan Shelton – lead guitar; Ralph Stanley II – guitar & baritone vocals; Steve Sparkman – banjo & James Price – fiddle, mandolin & vocals

This is a solid A. Better yet, another such collaboration would follow.

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – ‘If I Were You’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale — ‘Country Super Hits, Vol. 1’

Released in 2006, Country Super Hits, Vol. 1 is an oddly titled collection, as it sounds like a greatest hits or tribute record when indeed all the tracks are original. But Jim Lauderdale does perform the album in a traditional style, which is a nice change of pace.

Lauderdale co-wrote eleven of the album’s thirteen songs with Odie Blackmon, who is perhaps best known as the writer behind Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning,” which came out a year prior to this album. The pair kicks the album off with “Honky Tonk Mood Again,” a mid-tempo shuffle about a guy following his woman since she undoubtedly knows where the party is at.

“Playing On My Heart Strings” is a Dwight Yoakam-esque ballad. “Too More Wishes” is a steel-drenched uptempo number about a man who feels luck is on his side. Lauderdale shines on the spellbinding “Cautious,” about a man who’s jumping into his new relationship slowly and surely. A fiddle plays a prominent role on “If You’ve Never Seen Her Smile,” which is as striking as the woman Lauderdale and Blackmon are describing in the lyric. “Right Where You Want Me” is country rock and not to my taste at all and “Are You Okay” is a modernized shuffle.

“Single Standard Time” is reminiscent of Buck Owens and is one of the album’s strongest tracks. “That’s Why We’re Here” is slow and sparse, with Lauderdale exaggerating his twang. The album rebounds with “Change,” which has a wonderful melodic structure and an ear-catching sonic makeup. “You Can’t Stop Her,” about a guy who realizes his girl isn’t ever coming back, is firmly within the 1990s country style and would’ve worked brilliantly in George Strait’s hands during that era.

The album also features two non-Blackmon tracks. Lauderdale teamed with Leslie Satcher for “I Met Jesus In A Bar” and Shawn Camp for “She’s Got Some Magic Going On.” The former is much strong than its title would indicate while the latter has an interesting and engaging melody.

Both songs are very good, as is the album, which owes more to Americana than country, despite the abundance of traditional instrumentation. I highly recommend checking this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A- 

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Old Time Angels’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Whisper’

Produced by Jim with Blake Chancey in 1998 for BNA Records (making it his third album and his third record label), Whisper is one of his most traditional country records. Not coincidentally it is one of my favorites, but not only for the musical style. The song quality on this album is exceptionally high.

Jim collaborated with songwriting legend Harlan Howard on two songs. The opening honky tinker ‘Goodbye Song’ is an excellent song about denying a relationship has come to its end. ‘We’re Gone’ is also great, with Jim brooding over his lost love and their empty former home after a too-early marriage comes to an end:

She lives on the right side of the tracks
I’m on the wrong
There’s nothin’ but the TV going on

One-time George Jones duet partner Melba Montgomery, another fine songwriter, helped Jim with my favorite song, ‘What Do You Say To That’, a charming love song notable for its truly gorgeous melody. It was to be one of George Strait’s Lauderdale-penned hits a couple of years later but Lauderdale’s original is lovely too. Strait and Wade Hayes both later covered the John Scott Sherrill co-write ‘She Used To Say That To Me’, another super song with an ironic edge to the lyric.

Jim teamed up with Frank Dycus to write several songs. Twin fiddles introduce the fine ‘In Harm’s Way’, with its hindsight recollection of a romance which was always headed for disaster, just like the Titanic. Jim’s vocal’s have a high lonesome quality on the right song, and it works to perfection on this track. ‘Without You Here It’s Not The Same’ is another strong song regretting failure to see trouble before it hit the relationship. I also liked ‘Take Me Down A Path (My Heart Won’t Know)’. I didn’t like ‘Sometimes’ as much aurally, as its melody is more repetitive, but it is another well written song.

The rhythmic ‘Hole In My Head’, written with Buddy Miller, is repetitive, unmelodic and my least favourite track.

Jim wrote the remaining songs solo. The slow title track is a love song loaded with gorgeous steel guitar which would benefit from a cover by someone with a sweeter voice. ‘It’s Hard To Keep A Secret Anymore’ is an excellent song with Jim’s protagonist guessing his wife is cheating. ‘You’re Tempting Me’ is a pretty good song about initial attraction.

The album closes with the bluegrass gospel of ‘I’ll Lead You Home’, featuring Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys – before Stanley’s career was revived by O Brother, Where Art Thou. This is a lovely recording.

Overall this is a very strong album worth checking out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale — ‘Every Second Counts’

Jim Lauderdale released his third album, Every Second Counts, in 1995. His second and final album for Atlantic, it was co-produced by Lauderdale and Dusty Wakeman.

The record opens with “It’s Time When It’s Time,” a rather generic mid to fast tempo rocker. “That’s Not The Way It Works” follows in the same vein, although the melody, while uninteresting, is engaging.

“Don’t Build Your World Around It” is straight up rock, with a cluttered arraignment that somewhat drowns out the lyric. I don’t think it’s a bad song and would benefit from a more traditional accompaniment. Lauderdale co-wrote “Always On The Outside,” a horn-drenched mid-tempo rocker, with Nick Lowe. It’s the first truly interesting song to appear on the album.

I really like the ballad “Charmed” and can see a lot of potential with the track, although the production feels very dated. “Fireball,” the first song that feels like classic Lauderdale, is one of two tracks co-written with Jamie Hartford. The other, “I’m Still Learning How to Crawl,” is an excellent ballad about a man going back to the love he lost, accentuated with muscular guitars.

The overall sonic makeup of the title track really isn’t to my taste, but I do like “Echo,” which appears next. Lauderdale’s delivery on the song is sleepy, but the song is good. “Ready To Ramble” is straight up Americana in the truest sense of the style, and while it isn’t something I would normally gravitate towards, it shows why he’s a pioneer of that genre.

“If You Look Real Close” is far more my speed and a song that grabbed me from the first note. He closes the album with its strangest offering, the bluesy “Bluebell,” which is fine on its own, but it proceeded with a hidden track I couldn’t quite decipher, which sounds like a choral gospel number.

When James Chrispell of AllMusic reviewed Every Second Counts he said Lauderdale was “playing it safe.” I would have to agree and add the music also feels uninteresting and not really all that memorable, even on multiple listenings. I was really hoping to enjoy this album a lot more than I actually did.

Grade: B (for effort)

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Pretty Close To The Truth’

Released in 1994, Pretty Close To The Truth was Jim’s second album and the first of two albums to be released on Atlantic. I cannot exactly describe the album as country as it runs the gamut of roots influences from country to Americana, roots rock, blues and classic soul.

My copy of the album is on audio cassette so I am missing much of the peripheral information, so I will operate on the assumption that the songs were all written or co-written by Jim Lauderdale.

The album opens with “This Is The Big Time”, a clever song that compares a entertainment career with the ups and downs of a romantic relationship. In terms of sound, the arrangement reminds me of “Honky Tonk Song”, a 1957 hit for Webb Pierce. Some seem to think that this would have made a good song for Dwight Yoakam to record and I can’t say that I disagree.

Everybody makes mistakes sometimes seems like I live one
When they’re handing out the second tries I hope they save me some
Cause I’m gonna play for keeps this time
Don’t even think of lettin’ go
Cause this is the big time this is the big time
Don’t you run off don’t you get lost this is the big time

I never knew a social grace until I met one
The bells went off inside my head and all that other stuff
There’s gonna be a lot of people callin’ out your name
And saying I’m a lucky guy
Cause this is the big time…

Next up is “I’m On Your Side”, a song that has hints of Buck Owens and early Beatles without being a clone of either and with more blues influence than either.

People tell you what you need is a lesson in defeat
Got you bothered got you down not so sure you want me around
Baby I’m on your side you don’t even have to read my mind
I’m on your side we’ll talk about it more back home
Those who’d come to your defense would not laugh at your expense
Don’t waste time and bear a grudge towards the ones who should not judge
Baby I’m on your side…

“Why Do I Love You” is a slow ballad with a 70s soul vibe that I could hear Al Green or perhaps Sam Moore wrapping their vocal cords around. Lauderdale isn’t as soulful as either Green or Moore but acquits himself well. There is a fair amount of steel guitar as background shading.

Why do I love you why do I love you
Oh I give myself away I give myself away
I had it coming for holding on to nothing
Oh knowing you won’t change you’ll never feel the same

Oh but I’m so weak I’ve lost my strength
To fight such a liar that’s filled me with desire
Why do I miss you I’m dying just to kiss you
I give myself away I don’t want to give myself away

The arrangement on “Divide and Conquer” reminds me of Terry Stafford’s “Suspicion, ”and is similarly paranoid. Danni Leigh had a nice recording of this song

Divide and conquer that’s what he’s gonna do
Getting nearer everytime he gets close to you
Crying on his shoulder you say he’s just your friend
Why’s he standing in the wings waiting for us to end

You don’t have to be afraid while I’m away
Don’t go crying wolf or one’s gonna stake his claim
Divide and conquer tearing us apart
Hitting me where it hurts taking you by the heart yeah

“Grace’s Song” is a mid-tempo ballad thematically similar to the David Wills song “Song On The Jukebox” in that it tells of that special song that individuals or couples associate with themselves.

Yes we’ve been waiting to hear celebrating
For time to stand still and see us all shine some
Yes it gets better dust has to settle
Shook my head out on the sound long enough to look around
Grace’s song is playing…

“Run Like You” is a gentle ballad with a semi-acoustic arrangement

Rome wasn’t built in just one day you better tie those shoes
How do you expect to find your way till daylight’s breaking loose
Good things come to those who wait I won’t be hard to find
If you stop through and hesitate hope that you’re still kind
Get moving you’re proving things to us all
You’re teaching we’re reaching out before we fall
I want to run like you right beside what’s true
I want to run like you no telling what we’d find

The next song, “Can’t Find Mary” picks up the tempo, again with a strongly acoustic feel to it and some very nice guitar picking on the breaks. I don’t know if this would have made a hit single for anyone but I really like the lyrics

When he just appeared and those two first met
I knew there’d be some trouble that we never would forget
She’s just a precious thing such a fragile kind
She didn’t need nobody leaving messing with her mind
Can’t find Mary where’d she go
With the stranger but I don’t think that she knows
Where’s she headed lost somewhere
She just sits there and I don’t think that she cares
When she left our world it was a sudden thing
I lost my only sister waitin’ there in so much pain
And the only shame the only one disgrace

She doesn’t feel the cold rain runnin’ down from off her face
Can’t find Mary where’d she go…
How long how long how long till she’s going to come back home
How long how long how long till she’s going to come back home

“Don’t Trust Me” is a jog-along ballad sung to a girl advising her to be cautious around him

“Three Way Conversation” is an interesting song that sounds much like a modern folk effort mixed with some Buddy Holly guitar licks and an early rock feel.

“Pretty Close To The Truth” is about as close to singing the blues that Lauderdale gets. I could imagine the Rolling Stones singing the song but I don’t regard the song as anything special

Well I just need a little more time I’m begging you to give me
It’s just not right to carry on this way with you
A big boy that oughta act like a man someday
Yeah that’s pretty close to the truth

The album closes with “When The Devil Starts Crying”, a folk blues number that starts rockin’ midway through. Truth be told, I’m not much of a fan of the blues and the last two tracks somewhat spoiled my enjoyment of the album. I would still give the album something in the B to B+ but there are many Jim Lauderdale albums I like better than this album.

While I don’t have a list of the musicians playing on any given track, the following musicians do appear on the album:

Buddy Miller – electric & acoustic guitar, harmony vocals
Gurf Morlix – steel guitar, mandolin, various other guitars
Dusty Wakeman – bass
Tammy Rogers – mandolin, harmony vocals
Greg Leisz – electric & steel guitar, dobro
Donald Lindley – drums, percussion, tambourine

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – Jim Lauderdale – ‘I Met Jesus In A Bar’

Classic Rewind: Jim Lauderdale – ‘The King Of Broken Hearts’

Album Review: Jim Lauderdale – ‘Planet Of Love’

Jim Lauderdale was already a successful songwriter when he secured his first album deal with Reprise Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. His debut album in 1991 was produced by Rodney Crowell and John Leventhal, and Lauderdale wrote every song, mostly with Leventhal.

The label tried three singles, none of which saw any chart action. ‘Maybe’, co-written by Lauderdale and Leventhal with Crowell, may not have been the best choice to launch Lauderdale as a solo artist. It is a decent mid-tempo song with an optimistic message about taking a chance in love, but it is not very interesting musically.

‘I Wasn’t Fooling Around’ is much more on the mark, and it is a shame it didn’t get airplay. A great traditional country shuffle, it was picked up by George Strait a couple of years later. The third single, ‘Wake Up Screaming’, is a minor keyed country rock number later recorded by Gary Allan on his debut album, but I don’t’ particularly like it.

Other artists also saw potential hits from this album’s set list. My favorite is ‘The King Of Broken Hearts’, later covered by George Strait, and still later by Lee Ann Womack. This is a loving tribute to George Jones and Gram Parsons, ornamented by tasteful steel guitar from Glen D. Hardin. Emmylou Harris adds harmonies. ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ was another Strait pick, and was also recorded by Jann Browne. It’s a very good song about a breakup, but I prefer both the covers to Lauderdale’s own version.

The jazzy and sophisticated title track was covered by Mandy Barnett and the pre-Natalie Maines incarnation of the Dixie Chicks. The soulful ‘What You Don’t Know’ was later recorded by Jon Randall.

‘Heaven’s Flame’ is a midpaced warning against a femme fatale. ‘Bless Her Heart’ is a low-key love song and is rather sweet, with gospel style backing vocals. The valedictory ‘My Last Request’ is slow and sad, with Rodney Crowell adding a prominent harmony.

Lauderdale’s main problem as an artist was that his vocals were not strong enough. He may also have been a bit too eclectic. However, he is a great songwriter, and this album has a lot to offer, especially if you have more adventurous tastes.

Grade: B

September Spotlight Artist: Jim Lauderdale

Our September Spotlight features one of the true Renaissance persons of roots music, Jim Lauderdale. Born in 1957, Lauderdale has a thorough-going knowledge of country, bluegrass, roots-rock, folk and jazz and incorporates elements of all of these into his songwriting and performances. He has performed in theatre, as a member of various bands, and as a solo performer. He has an affable personality and a decent, but not necessarily terrific, singing voice that could, under different circumstances, led him to become a major recording star in the fields of bluegrass or traditional country music. As it is, Jim has had difficulty in receiving airplay for his own recordings and never made much of an impact on radio with his only charted single, “Stay Out of My Arms” reaching #86 on Billboard’s country chart in 1988. If heard at all on the radio, it is most likely to be on bluegrass programs (usually on NPR) or on Bluegrass Junction on Sirius-XM as his duet recordings with Ralph Stanley are quite popular with the bluegrass crowd.

As a songwriter, he has been far more successful with his songs being recorded by many artists across a variety of genres including George Strait, Gary Allan, Elvis Costello, George Jones, Buddy Miller, Blake Shelton, the Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, and Patty Loveless. I don’t know how many of his songs George Strait recorded, but it is a bunch.

Although not a household name with modern county radio audiences, Jim Lauderdale has been quite busy, co-hosting Music City Roots, the annual Americana Music Awards Show (since 2002) and appearing on various other television shows. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), Dr. Ralph Stanley, Nick Lowe and Roland White.

Between television and touring, he stays quite busy. We have selected an interesting array of albums to review, so please join us in saluting our September Spotlight Artist – Jim Lauderdale.