Prolific tunesmith Jim Lauderdale splits his latest release between Memphis and Nashville | Bleader

Prolific tunesmith Jim Lauderdale splits his latest release between Memphis and Nashville


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  • Scott Simontacchi
  • Jim Lauderdale

If there's a more prolific or consistent Nashville songwriter than Jim Lauderdale, I couldn't tell you who it is. He's written tunes for lots of famous singers—George Strait, Patty Loveless, Blake Shelton, Lee Ann Womack, Gary Allan—but he's also a terrific performer himself. Throughout the 90s he bounced among numerous major labels with little commercial success, but since turning to indies—and lately his own Sky Crunch imprint—he's been releasing music under his own name as prolifically as he's been writing it for other people. Since 2012 he's dropped seven albums, including his latest, Soul Searching, which spreads 26 tunes across two discs.

Lauderdale is a master of modern country forms, with a deft melodic genius and an allergy to cheap sentimentality. His music first got its hooks in me in 1994,when I heard his second album, Pretty Close to the Truth (Atlantic), a nonchalantly graceful blend of honky-tonk with blue-eyed soul, blues-rock, and pop. He's never made another record as eclectic as that one, but Soul Searching shows off a couple sides of his musical personality—each of the two discs was made in a different city. Disc one was made in Memphis at Royal Studios and reflects Lauderdale's interest in R&B; the band includes musicians who were crucial to classic recordings on Hi and Stax Records, including Charles and Leroy Hodges from the former and Spooner Oldham and David Hood from the latter. The disc was coproduced by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars, and he and his brother Cody also play on it. The second disc was cut in Nashville at Victor Studio A (where the likes of Dolly Parton, George Jones, and Elvis Presley have cut tracks), though in typical Lauderdale fashion it doesn't deliver strict honky-tonk flavor. As you can hear below on "You Were Here," which opens the second disc, he creates a richly atmospheric pop-rock feel with a subtle Latin undercurrent.

Lauderdale is a terrific singer, and though no one would ever confuse him with Al Green or Otis Redding—he's hardly a stylist—he does know how to serve up a melody. Alas, not every tune is strong; "Sad Bell" shoots for the kind of blues-funk vibe perfected by Albert King, but it feels a bit trite despite a killer hook in the chorus. Likewise the forced George Jones-style low notes Lauderdale hits on "Super Power" feel out of place. Luckily, such missteps are few and far between. Lauderdale makes a rare appearance on Sunday evening at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Today's playlist:

Cypress String Quartet & Gary Hoffman, Schubert: String Quintet | Quartettsatz (Avie)
McCoy Tyner, Time for Tyner (Blue Note)
Wardell Gray, Way Out Wardell (Boplicity)
Momo Kodama, La Vallée des Cloches (ECM)
John Renbourn, Sir John a Lot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & Ye Grene Knyghte (Sanctuary)

Correction: This piece previously stated that Lauderdale would play with a full band on Sunday; he will in fact play solo.