Nashville’s Lauderdale rides again
The media blitz has calmed a bit since Jim Lauderdale released his new album, “I’m a Song,” on July 1. Life doesn’t have to be that way for Mr. Lauderdale, 57, one of the most respected songwriters in Nashville. Or does it?
“You know, sometimes I do wonder why I do it,” he said after a pause when asked why he continually performs when he has had such songwriting success. “I remember a quote from [Texas musician] Joe Ely that sometimes you travel through 23 hours of ordeals to play for one hour. It really seems like that a lot, for me anyway. But touring is just something I have to do. It’s my destiny.“
Fair enough. Yet there’s no denying the North Carolina-born, South Carolina-raised artist is among the most acclaimed songwriters in a town brimming with them.
After spending his youth covering everyone from the Grateful Dead to bluegrass and country artists, he brought his songs to Nashville and began building a list of credits about which most tunesmiths can only dream. His collaborators include industry icons such as the Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and red-hot producer/musician Buddy Miller. Those who have recorded his songs, another who’s who of contemporary musicians, include George Strait (who recorded 15 of Mr. Lauderdale’s songs at last count), Blake Shelton, Vince Gill, Sunny Sweeney and Shelby Lynn.
But it’s performing his own songs before a live audience that brings Mr. Lauderdale unequaled satisfaction.
“When I get on the stage and the performance starts and I’m singing, well, I realize I can’t NOT do this,” he said. “It’s my destiny. I did want to be a performing artist. My first record deals were in country. But I never had the radio success as an artist, though other artists were recording my songs. I really love country music, and so I thought it was also time to do a country record again” after releasing recent Americana and bluegrass albums.
Material has never been an issue for Mr. Lauderdale. The first day that he went into Nashville’s RCA Studio A to record (accompanied by guitarist James Burton and steel guitar player Al Perkins), they cut nine songs. Mr. Lauderdale knew he wanted to include a few others, including long-out-of-print fan favorite “King of Broken Hearts,” (the song, made popular by Mr. Strait, jump-started Mr. Lauderdale’s songwriting career when it was released in 1992).
Before he knew it, he had 20 songs ready, with plenty left over.
The new album features vocal cameos by artists including Mr. Miller, Lee Ann Womack and Patty Loveless, who has found major chart success on songs penned by Mr. Lauderdale, including “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me,” which she recorded with George Jones.
But it’s the traditional country, honky-tonk vibe and Mr. Lauderdale’s vocals that set the music apart.
The whining steel and guitar on “The Feeling’s Hanging On” and Mr. Lauderdale’s fervent vocals over light keys on “Let Him Come to You” are among the traditional sounds that make these songs contemporary classics. And his duet with Ms. Loveless on “Today I’ve Got the Yesterdays” may well put some fans in mind of country’s best music couplings, like Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner or Dottie West and Kenny Rogers.
Still, Mr. Lauderdale, the longtime and muchlauded host of the annual Americana Honors & Awards, is too innovative not to mix just a dab of folk and Southern rock into some of his songs: “There’s No Shadows in the Shade” and “We Will Rock Again” would both arguably fit seamlessly into Neil Young’s catalog.
It’s to Mr. Lauderdale’s credit that his tunes bring other artists’ signature sounds to mind.
On a stop in Alexandria, Virginia, last year while on tour with Mr. Miller in support of their album “Buddy & Jim,” the duo and their bandmates dined at an Old Town restaurant that featured post-dinner karaoke. At the urging of his band, Mr. Lauderdale took the stage and sang “Don’t Make Me Come Over There and Love You.” An audience member, who didn’t realize Mr. Lauderdale wrote the song, credited it to Mr. Strait.
Mr. Lauderdale chuckled when reminded of the incident.
“It’s all very fulfilling,” he said. “And the process of writing, of having a song take shape, is a real important thing to me. The rest, well, you really don’t have much control over what happens.”
Jim Lauderdale’s new album, “I’m a Song,” was released July 1, which continues his mastery of the traditional country and honky-tonk sound.