If you have heard any country music in the last few years you likely know exactly who Jim Lauderdale is. He is considered to be a progenitor of the current Americana movement; he’s written songs for or with, amongst others, the Dixie Chicks, Blake Shelton, Elvis Costello and Buddy Miller, with whom he co-hosts a radio show. The man has experience, in other words, and a solid work ethic. None of that has made him weary of music, however, if his latest album is anything to go on.
This is an album that is full of vim and vigour, sweetness and pragmatism. I wouldn’t classify it as Americana but it’s not traditional country or country rock or country pop. Perhaps we could call it Jim Lauderdale style, because Lauderdale has so much experience that he is able to synthethise a wealth of influences and create something that is identifiably country but also able to play with the genre in a way that both nods to the traditional and keeps the genre moving forwards.
The album has rich layers of musicality yet it’s clear these songs could be sung by Lauderdale sitting along on a barstool, guitar in hand, and they’d have the same impact. That’s also where his experience comes in: the construction of these songs is very tight, with nothing extraneous. The melodies are accessible, the lyrics are straightforward and the stories are relatable. As I’m fond of saying, a core element of country music is connection with the audience and Lauderdale has the art down pat. It’s not hard to imagine these songs emerging from the open window of a pick-up, being played in a bar or on a verandah on a lazy afternoon – or entertaining a festival crowd.
Simple song construction is actually not simple at all: it exists when the songwriter has learnt to edit him- or herself ruthlessly, to resist the urge to overexplain, to know enough to leave room for the listener to bring their own experiences and emotions into what they’re hearing. Simple (or simple-sounding) songs are the songs that resonate with the biggest range of people and which, therefore, can have the biggest impact. Country music folks are exemplars of this artform, and Jim Lauderdale is one of the best of those. This album is all the evidence you need.
London Southern is out now.