Jim Lauderdale : Reason and Rhyme

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A couple years back, I had the opportunity to interview Jim Lauderdale, one of the finest songwriters, best voices, and all around nice guys in Nashville.  Our conversation drifted through the theater work he had done in the past, winning a Grammy with Ralph Stanley, and the trust he places in other artists (and there have been many) who have recorded his songs, before it wandered to some songwriting he had done with Robert Hunter, the longtime Grateful Dead wordsmith.  When I asked Jim if he was a Deadhead back during his younger days, his answer was a strong affirmative.

Jim’s affinity for the Grateful Dead continues, as he has recently released another collection of tunes with Robert Hunter.

Lauderdale, a man comfortable all over the musical map of Americana, returns to his bluegrassy roots with Reason and Rhyme after his most recent release, last year’s electrified Patchwork River.  This collection of tunes is outstanding;  Lauderdale is backed by some of Nashville’s finest pickers, including resonator guitarist Randy Kohrs and mandolin whiz Mike Compton, and the collaborative songwriting effort with Hunter is impeccable.

Highlights from Reason and Rhyme include the fast and furious bluegrass gospel of “Fields of the Lord,” the laissez fair resignation of “Don’t Give a Hang,” and the delightfully quirky protest of “Tiger & The Monkey.” Lauderdale’s stellar tenor also rings on the disc opener, “Cruel Wind and Rain” and the poor boy lover’s lament, “Janis Jones.”

Fans of Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass side project, Old & In The Way, can only imagine the sonic tastiness that would have been the fruit of a Garcia/Lauderdale/Hunter collaboration.In the meantime, it is satisfaction enough to know that, beneath those custom embroidered Manuel suits, Jim Lauderdale might be rocking a tie dyed, dancing bear, Steal Your Face tee shirt.

Reason and Rhyme is out now on Sugar Hill Records.

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