A decade ago I’d have told you Jim Lauderdale was one of the finest country songwriters and artists in the world. From that awesome debut Planet of Love album through the 2000s, Jim’s vibe and feel and lyrical outlook helped build the shelter that country music (the genre) needed after “country” the radio format rendered it homeless. But through a series of rangy and interesting collaborations and adventuresome albums, Jim has widened his scope and contributed to many more American traditions, including psychedelic folk rock and soul music. Much of this evolution has happened during this time we’ve been working together at Roots and it’s been astonishing at times to watch up close as this exceptional writer brought new song after new song to our stage and as he premiered new projects, such as his collaborations with Robert Hunter, Donna The Buffalo, the North Mississippi All-Stars and others. As Eddie Stubbs has been known to intone: “we’re seeing history here folks; don’t you forget it.”
This week Jim takes center stage with the All-Stars on what is very much an all-star Americana night. We’re featuring those guys plus the eminent Americana guru Tim O’Brien presenting his first solo recording in five years. I mean, wow, right? This is what we live for.
Jim’s new Soul Searching project is a big blue double album that puts his vivid, rapid evolution on beautiful display. Disc 1 was recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis with the great Boo Mitchell at the controls. Expertly arranged horns and background vocals elevate the music to creamy, dreamy heights. Yet the core is Jim’s uncanny and seemingly infinite capacity for melody and imagery. He writes a LOT yet seems to always surprise. I just adore “There’s A Storm Out There” with its Stax-y sway and the peppier “Don’t Be So Gone” which fuses classic country Jim with modern Memphis Jim. The second half of the disc was cut in Nashville’s Studio A, but it’s not conventional country. Though Jim is solo writing here in nearly all cases, many songs seem to partake of the mystical imagery that came up in the Hunter songs. I mean who else but our yin-yang master could write “Signals From Space” or “Water Water Please Come Back” with its gorgeous power-chord and cosmic conversation of a chorus?
The consistent thread between the Nashville and Memphis sides of Soul Searching, besides Jim, is the guitar and drumming of North Mississippi All-Stars Luther and Cody Dickinson. And we couldn’t be more excited to welcome this core 21st century Memphis band back to Roots. When they first played the show, they brought the slinky beats of the Hill Country, the stanky slide of an electric home-made diddly bow and a whole lot of good songs. They created a parade around the venue with Mardis Gras masks and changed the vibe of our room at a chromosomal level.
Luther and Cody are standard setters and standard bearers for modern/traditional soul blues. And as I’ve said before, Cody is just a stunning drummer who’s as interesting playing by himself as he is with his brother’s evocative guitar. They’ve released no band-only albums since that visit when we were talking excitedly about the CD World Boogie Is Coming of 2013. But the All-Stars did just release a disc with New Orleans legend Anders Osborne as well as one with keyboardist John Medeski and sacred steel man Robert Randolph. It’s called Soul Food. And yeah, that’s the story. I need music like this the way I need bread, butter and beer.
Tim O’Brien is an all-star from the world of bluegrass and acoustic Americana who couldn’t have had a busier year. His first great band Hot Rize reunited and is fully back in business with a great album and a robust tour. And Tim was a founding and part-time member of the Earls of Leicester, the Flatt & Scruggs love fest band that cleaned up at the IBMA awards. Somehow amid all that he found time to make Pompadour, his first solo album in some time and a nice echo of the string of solo discs that attended my own journey into Americana music in the 90s, like Rock In My Shoe and Odd Man In. Besides the velvety voice, subtle grooves and smart sentiments, there’s the humor we heard on 2010’s Chicken & Egg, including the title track in which our narrator confuses bed head for a Del McCoury-worthy fashion statement. Tim will perform solo acoustic as far as we’ve been told.
I don’t know much about Moe Bandy, so it’s been interesting to look into this former bull rider turned 1970s country music traditionalist. I know he’s a big favorite of our own Keith Bilbrey, which is enough cred for me! Still though I encountered great tracks like “Soft Lights and Hard Country Music” from his new Live in Austin album and a picture emerged of a hard working, stridently independent artist. The twang has twang and his voice is that ideal blend of whiskey and sawdust. He’s a honky tonker through and through with hits like “Barstool Mountain” and “Hank Williams You Wrote My Life.” So when he opens this week’s show, it’ll set an authentic and reverent tone.
Rounding out our bill is young traditionalist Christian Lopez bearing his debut album Onward, which was produced by Nashville mega-producer Dave Cobb. He tours constantly and rocks it hard acoustic style. Our booking team is quite excited about this discovery and I’m sure we all will be too. Perhaps a future all-star.