Monday, October 26, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JIM LAUDERDALE - SOUL SEARCHING
In an eclectic career that's always been somewhat under the radar, Lauderdale has moved back and forth in American roots music, from bluegrass to power pop. He's an A-list sideman for folks as diverse as Elvis Costello to Ralph Stanley, and a prime songwriter found on the finer Nashville releases.
It's only 212 miles between Nashville and Memphis, but they are worlds apart for many music fans. Here Lauderdale proves they are a lot closer than you'd think. The first disc here was recorded at Royal Studios, where much of the beloved Hi Records material was made by Al Green, Willie Mitchell, Ann Peebles and the like. Lauderdale worked with Mitchell's son Boo, who now runs the studio, original Hi Records players Charles and Leroy Hodges, the great session men Spooner Oldham and David Hood, and North Mississippi Allstars Luther and Cody Dickinson. This is a couple of generations of Memphis music history, nothing to trifle with.
If anyone can rise to that level, it's Lauderdale, who delivers a set of instant soul classics. Vocally, he's as smooth as Boz Scaggs (that's a big compliment in my books), but can pull a growl as earthy as Leon Russell. There's No End To The Sky has a thick groove, horn stabs and classic backing vocals. The classic horns and strings of the Al Green hits are used for There's A Storm Out There (But It's Calm In Here), Lauderdale equal to the sexy task. He also has no trouble with the more bluesy styles, and Worth The Wait would've made a great Etta James track.
On the Nashville disc, it's another legendary studio session, this time in Victor Studio A, where Dolly, George Jones, Roy Orbison and lots more made hits. This time, Lauderdale and the Dickinson's do most of the heavy lifting, and despite the surroundings refuse to play by the house rules. This set is a tougher-edged batch, with just a couple of country numbers featuring fiddle. Instead, Lauderdale lets the brothers loose for some roots workouts, I'm Just The Lookout featuring a ripping solo from Luther. There are some grand tales and imaginative lyrics, featuring Tarzan Houdini, black widow spiders, signals from space, mermaids and crocodiles. And in the middle of it all is the great question of religion, Why Does God Let That Happen, a jaw-dropper of a tune.
Lauderdale is so creative, even two of the great American music capitals can't contain him.