According to his current label, Yep Roc, the ultra-prolific Jim Lauderdale plans to release three stylistically disparate albums in nine months. Two are already out: last fall he issued a fine bluegrass outing called The Bluegrass Diaries and in February he released Honey Songs, which doesn't fall neatly into any category. (The third will be a collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, their second effort together.) The dominant feel on Honey Songs is the cosmic vibe of chill 70s country, but Lauderdale's songs embrace and transcend just about every style of American music. Bluegrass, honky-tonk, soul, rock 'n' roll--they all collide and coexist with little fanfare.
Cut with a crack band that includes James Burton, Garry Talent, and Al Perkins (and backup vocals from Emmylou Harris, Kelly Hogan, Buddy Miller, and Patty Loveless), the new record is packed with Lauderdale's typically catchy melodies. The powerful tunefulness of his songs is what defines them, far more so than any genre signifiers he might happen to use, and Honey Songs includes some of his strongest. On a ballad like "It's Finally Sinking In," an otherwise roiling Crazy Horse grind contrasts with Lauderdale's dolorous melody (and Perkins's sublimely liquid pedal steel), which is so gorgeous it's easy to miss the pain.
Lauderdale's consistency might be his biggest enemy, since it makes it so easy to take him for granted. He doesn't make bad records, and aside from organizing albums around relatively benign themes like "bluegrass," he refuses to dabble in conceptual bullshit. He just puts his stuff out there. Ignore it, though, and it's your loss.
Lauderdale plays solo on a diverse roots-music bill dubbed "The American Beauty Project" Saturday night with Ollabelle, Larry Campbell, Catherine Russell, and Teresa Williams at Dominican University in River Forest.
Kay Adams, Wheels & Tears (Sundazed)
Rashim, Suns.Shadows (Mosz)
Dells, It's Not Unusual: The Very Best of the Vee Jay Years 1955-1965 (Charly)
Dead Meadow, Old Growth (Matador)
Jane, Berserker (Paw Tracks)