Jim Lauderdale, Crazy Like a Fox

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As is sometimes the case when going in the studio, Jim Lauderdale is prone to call friend and co-writer Odie Blackmon with a question. 

“Hey Odie, do we have anything?”

For Lauderdale’s new album From Another World, Blackmon responded with a yes, reminding his friend that they had written “When You Can’t Have What You Want.” In addition to writing songs, Blackmon teaches a course on songwriting at Middle Tennessee State University. It is made possible by an endowment made by Nancy Sepulvado, the wife of the late singer George Jones. Jones once sat at the Ryman watching Lauderdale, a theater major from Erskine College,  portray him in a musical. He was also the inspiration for “The King of Broken Hearts,” the song Lauderdale is most known for and was popularized by George Strait.

“The King of Broken Hearts” provided inspiration for the title of the documentary about Lauderdale’s life by the Australian director Jeremy Dylan. Dylan is now the singer’s manager and recently provided some useful advice. When Lauderdale cut the song “Horses Run Free” for his last album Time Flies, he felt it wasn’t right for release. Upon hearing the song Dylan had a visceral reaction. “Oh, you’ve got to put it on,” he told him.

“I kind of fought him,” Lauderdale said to Buddy Miller on the The Buddy & Jim Show he co-hosts weekly on SiriusXM Outlaw Country. “It was like George Jones not wanting to do “He Stopped Loving Her Today,”” he laughed in reference to the story told over the years how Jones nearly rejected singing what became arguably country’s greatest song.

It was one of two promotional stops he made to talk about From Another World before hitting the road with Chuck Mead and Jason Ringenberg. The three are part of show bring billed as the Cosmic Honky Tonk Revue.

Lauderdale also make time to drop in and see Barry Mazor who hosts Acme’s must-hear Roots Now radio show broadcast every Wednesday afternoon from lower Broadway in downtown Nashville.

He reflected that the convergence of all of his styles from country, soul, bluegrass and rock and roll resulted from listening to everything growing up—and was still, after all these years and thirty-two albums, a process.

Mazor couldn’t help ask what lay ahead and Lauderdale in true form couldn’t resist the bait talking about what’s next. Lauderdale had come in on a break from the studio and revealed he was making overdubs for his next album with brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars. 

Three years ago Lauderdale went out for a walk in the park when he ran into the drummer Cody Dickinson. The two talked and the accidental encounter led to a trip to Memphis where they would cut Soul Searching, one of two albums he released simultaneously on the same day.

There will be another soul record with the Dickinsons that was recorded again with Boo Mitchell at the legendary Royal Studios. And Lauderdale couldn’t help but revisit a perennial topic that’s been nagging him for some time. There remains a bunch of unfinished songs still in the can from sessions recorded with guitarist James Burton and pedal steel player Al Perkins for the album Honey Songs.

It was a classic case of Jim being Jim. The Americana icon is seemingly in constant motion with his creative mind and multi-tasking. It’s that kind of that constant creativity in motion and unpredictability about what Lauderdale is thinking of doing in the next breath that makes him so intriguing. And given our current culture, anticipating a new album or more each year is something to truly look forward to.

From Another World is an enriching sound that represents all of his creativity in motion and genre defying approach. It’s a delight to pick out strains of the early Beatles in the bridges of his country shuffles and hear songs which never sound the same from one track to the next. 

When the artist most associated with the Americana genre stepped down as the host of the Americana Music Awards to make way for the Milk Carton Kids, it might have seemed that the torch had been passed to a new generation. 

But Lauderdale has been on a creative tear with younger collaborators singing with young singer Lillie Mae Rische who has defined Lauderdale’s vocal harmony sound since Time Flies, and co-writing with newcomer Logan Ledger, who has caught the attention of the Americana world and releases his anticipated debut album in August. 

Ledger went to a writing session and when he mentioned he had a title “The Secrets of The Pyramids,” Lauderdale was smitten.”Gosh, please let me write that with you,” he responded. It’s something Dylan turned into a new video shot in the director’s native Australia.

Several of the songs derive from comments Lauderdale heard around him. When co-writer Mondo Saenz said something about people being  from another world, Lauderdale heard something. “I said ‘Wait. that’s a title.” A similar thing happened when Saenz casually mentioned being one world away from something.  Lauderdale thought to himself “Wait a minute…

Ledger unintentionally set into motion a second song when while warming up. When he played the chords and mentioned they were from a Melba Montgomery song, Lauderdale responded: “Gosh would you like to meet her?” Lauderdale then did one better asking Ledger if he’d like to do a co-write if the country legend was up to it.

When they got to Montgomery’s house, she told stories about her old duet partner George Jones. Jones always said she was his favorite duet partner. She met her late husband Jack who played lead guitar for the Possum. As  Lauderdale learned, Jones was in love with Montgomery but she fell in love with Jack. 

“When we met,” Montgomery told Lauderdale and Ledger, “we just  knew it was for keeps.” 

“Guess what?” Lauderdale turned to the two. “That’s our title.”

Onstage at City Winery in Nashville,  Lauderdale shared the stage with the band that plays on From Another World. His vocals with Lilly Mae wore like a glove and his pedal steel guitarist created the panoramic backdrop for the emotion of the new songs that were close to classic country and had a deep affinity with tradition.

Lauderdale was opening for Miller and his wife Julie who share nearly forty years of friendship and the karmic connection of releasing their new albums on the same day.

On The Buddy & Jim Show, Julie Miller suggested that Lauderdale was, well, just crazy.

“I’m glad you picked that up,” he said in a typically self-deprecating way, “because not that many people have. That’s basically the concept. Jim is crazy.”

If Lauderdale is crazy he’s crazy like a fox. Based on the conversations with Ledger, Saenz and Montgomery, a random comment or turn of phrase is likely to inspire a new song.

“When you’re in a songwriting frame of mind that’s how it is,” he said.

For Jim Lauderdale, that seems like it’s always in the moment.

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