As a lover of the English language I’m sensitive to the mis-use of words, as when people praise a singer/songwriter as ‘prolific’ when they mean wonderful or amazing. But all prolific means of course is that someone produces a lot. Some great artists like Guy Clark are not prolific. Some prolific artists are not fantastic. It’s hard to be both, but our buddy and musical host Jim Lauderdale has done just that for years. In fact it’s hard to point to anyone in Americana music who has recorded and written so many songs with such consistency.
So while we have some superb talent performing this week (see below), this column and this episode of Roots will be a bit Jim-o-centric. You see Jim agreed to be our regular musical host for very little compensation and he’s put enormous energy and vision into the show. We truly wouldn’t be the same without him. So this week, we pay him back by giving him the stage to close the show, run long, and perform his new album Patchwork River in its entirety. It’s his second full album of songs co-written with long-time Grateful Dead songwriter Robert Hunter and his nineteenth album overall since his debut in 1991.
I fondly remember my discovery of this writer/artist from North Carolina. I was living in D.C. and we were lucky to have the wonderful Melody Music around the corner from our group house near Dupont Circle. I don’t know how much money I dropped in that shop, because besides great selection, they had a killer staff recommendation wall. And one day, there was a hand-written blurb about Planet of Love, and I bought it and bang, I became a fan. If he’d recorded nothing but “The King of Broken Hearts” from that disc he’d be noteworthy, but nearly every year since then has seen the release of one and sometimes two good to great albums. For a guy like me still wedded to tangible music, Jim takes up a decent-sized stretch of CD shelving.
Lauderdale has become one of the signature artists of the Americana music movement. He had the distinction of winning the very first Americana Artist of the Year award back in 2002, and he’s hosted that show most years since then. That’s when we wait for the moment when he blesses a particular performance with “now THAT’s Americana!” As a songwriter, he’s helped keep mainstream country on the level by penning hits or key songs for George Strait, Patty Loveless, The Dixie Chicks, Lee Ann Womack and many more. Besides that, he’s been covered by a range of groovy artists from Solomon Burke to Donna The Buffalo. Add unto that his flair for the theatrical (he started his career on New York stages and played George Jones in the bio-musical about Tammy Wynette) and you’ve got a well rounded entertainer.
Okay, enough. We’ve got a well rounded show to get you ready for Patchwork River. Ray Wylie Hubbard is a Texas legend, a prime mover of the 1970s Austin scene, when all that twangy country stoner magic happened. Ray perhaps too-famously wrote “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother,” a barroom hit for Jerry Jeff Walker, but it was after a long period in the personal wilderness that the Ray we know today really took the stage. He’s wise, melodic, tough and intelligent. And darkly funny too, as the title track to his current album Snake Farm shows. We’re lucky to have him out.
We’re also pleased to welcome Dana Cooper, a Nashville-based song wizard whose been slaying ‘em at the famous Kerrville Folk Festival for years and years. He’s one of those guys who with a guitar and voice can pull you into an intimate circle and with a band can rock the house without taking the focus off the words. Dana worked with Nanci Griffith’s bandleader Tom Jutz on his brand new CD The Conjurer, and he’s more excited about it than anything he’s done. I can endorse that endorsement. It’s sweet and hard, bright and dark. How does he conjure up such vivid characters and ideas? You’ll want to know after hearing him.
And in addition we have the throwbacky The Two Man Gentlemen Band, who are growing famous after their birth as a New York Subway busking act. And Jessica Stiles, a friend of the show who helped us enormously in getting Roots up and running last fall. We finally get to hear what she sounds like as an artist.
So come and plan to stay a little late. If Americana is what you seek, THAT is what you’ll find at the Loveless Barn.