Flipping through the CDs on the shelves the other morning, I wasn’t surprised to find seventeen Jim Lauderdale albums. Labeling the North Carolina-born, South Carolina-raised singer, songwriter, musician, and producer as prolific is to understate the prevalence of his musical progeny. Since 1991, and including three recently released albums, Lauderdale has created no fewer than 25 complete albums.
Add to that output dozens of guest appearances, compilation album tracks, and songs cut by recording artists from (alphabetically) Gary Allen and Mandy Barnett through to George Strait, Kelly Willis, and LeeAnn Womack, and you have someone who makes Alejandro Escovedo seem a laggard.
Planet of Love, that debut recording, remains a favourite, as does his early masterwork, Persimmons. These were mainstream country records that contained a vibrant pulse heartened by smart writing, creative singing, and inventive musicianship. His albums with Ralph Stanley, and mid-aught recordings including Headed For the Hills and The Bluegrass Diaries were superior, and no matter what perspective of Americana he elected to explore- countrypolitan, bluegrass, jam-band, troubadour, straight-up and hard, or Appalachian roots- he pulled it off with skill and no little bit of magic.
There were stumbles. At times, Lauderdale and his songwriting collaborators- especially Robert Hunter- delivered songs that were (depending on outlook) apparently or obviously formula-driven and predictable, perhaps overtaxing material that needed time to lay fallow. However, these blemishes were the exception rather than the rule. Where contemporaries deliver an album every three or four years, Lauderdale consistently unleashes a recording annually at minimum, a dozen since 2006. He has released four in the past year, three in 2013 alone, including Blue Moon Junction and Black Roses simultaneously this past November.
If anyone matches Lauderdale’s level of prolific creation combined with consistent high quality, they’ve escaped my attention.
My reviews of these three exceptional albums from Jim Lauderdale have been posted to Country Standard Time:
Old Time Angels: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5358
Blue Moon Junction: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=5359
Are these three albums created for the same audience? They could be, if that audience is flexible and fluid enough to react to the musical curves Lauderdale extends. Alternately, each may appeal individually to different types of listeners- Old Time Angels (video of the title track here) for the ‘grassers, Blue Moon Junction for the folk club crowd, and Black Roses for those who are interested in more jam band-influenced sounds.
Jim Lauderdale isn’t afraid to get out of his comfort zone. We should be willing to meet him halfway.
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