Nashville’s Laud­erdale rides again

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY NANCY DUN­HAM

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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