Review : Jim Lauderdale - Patchwork River
PopmattersMost country and folk music fans know the Appalachian murder ballad “Knoxville Girl”. The song has been covered by everyone from old time acts like the Blue Sky Boys, the Wilburn Brothers and the Louvin Brothers to more contemporary performers such as the Lemonheads, Elvis Costello, and Nick Cave. “Knoxville Girl” is said to have deep roots that can be found in places as early as the Elizabethan era, but its theme about killing a girl who has rejected her suitor has proven to be timeless for many male singers. The same is true of the murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio”, which shares the same story. The traditional song has been a staple of the country folk repertoire and famously covered by such luminaries as Johnny Cash, John Baez, Pete Seeger, and Doc Watson.
Jim Lauderdale and Robert Hunter have rewritten these two songs and combined them into a new one, “Louisville Rock” on Lauderdale’s new release, Patchwork River. The story is the same. Boy meets girl. Girl rejects boy. Boy kills girl. The details about the town of Knoxville and the Ohio River are slyly alluded to, as well as the fact that “this story has been told before”, but Lauderdale adds a new slant by adding a horn section and turning this into a rhythm and blues song. This effect makes the song simultaneously fresh and timeless.
Lauderdale and Hunter co-wrote all 13 songs on the new disc. Hunter, famous for penning the lyrics to many a Grateful Dead tune (re: American Beauty, Workingman‘s Dead) adds his trademark eccentric style of associative wordplay to many tunes, especially the title track (an example would be, “Served you breakfast on a supper tray/Got no eggs but I saved some shell/Lost the clapper but I found the bell”). Other songs may have more conventional style country lyrics, but there is always a certain amount of weirdness to be found in the lines. Whether the songs concern young love (“Turn to Stone”), a love that never blossomed (“Far in the Far Away”), the love of friends (“Jawbone”) or a long time love (“Good Together”), love seems to be at the center of almost every track.
Musically, Lauderdale’s tunes have a natural flow that allows him to use his guitar to forward the melody and play rhythmically at the same time. He’s ably joined by such notables as James Burton (Elvis Presley, Rick Nelson, Emmylou Harris) on electric guitar, Garry Tallent (Bruce Springsteen) on bass, and Al Perkins (Flying Burrito Brothers, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen) on pedal steel guitar for several cuts. They turn even the simplest song into something meaty and substantial through clean and tasty playing....full text
BlogcriticsJim Lauderdale’s track record of late has been remarkable. A highly respected songwriter and affable performer, the quality and craft evident on every recording he’s put out has remained consistently high. Equally at home with blazing bluegrass and hard-core honky-tonk, he delivers everything with jaunty and unerring ease.
Patchwork River is an all-original collection, with every song written by Lauderdale and Robert Hunter, erstwhile lyricist for the Grateful Dead and recent Dylan collaborator. Lauderdale’s always had a way with a catchy tune, and the songs here all have strong hooks, most featuring the kid of sing-along choruses that make ‘em seem like old friends by the second listen. Collaborating with Hunter pretty much guarantees that the lyrics, too, will provide plenty to chew on; even the love songs are thoughtful and considered, and there’s not a throw-away line to be found.
Place plays a huge part here, with few tunes passing without geographical reference; whether it’s first-person ruminations or pithy character sketches, Hunter’s people and places are unmistakably American. And musically, Lauderdale cuts a broad stylistic swath through Americana, from the rock ‘n’ roll country of the title track (admittedly more a state of mind than location) to the horn-fueled easy-going Memphis soul of “Louisville Roll,” with its “girl from Knoxville town.” There’s “Alligator Alley” and “El Dorado,” the former dark and foreboding, the latter fairly bursting at the seams with longing for that “city of gold.” “Turn To Stone” turns teenage awkwardness into swampy rock ‘n’ roll, while wistful reflection prevails on the tender and melancholic “Far In The Far Away.”
It’s all delivered with easy aplomb, the band impeccable yet loose and relaxed, providing muscular but supple accompaniment throughout. Arrangements are full but resources are allocated tastefully for maximum effect; shimmery guitars, wheezy organ, and swelling horns are applied judiciously, with the net result a wonderfully catchy but carefully crafted collection that’s as musically satisfying as it is lyrically rich....full text
The9513Twenty years into his recording career and, for many, Jim Lauderdale remains an acquired taste. Patchwork River isn’t likely to change that, although it’s not for a lack of trying.
Never one to shy away from unexpected collaboration, Patchwork River finds him again working with Robert Hunter, best known as a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. The duo previously wrote together for Lauderdale releases in the early part of this decade, with Hunter contributing to Lost In The Lonesome Pines (a joint effort with Ralph Stanley), and The Hummingbirds (both from 2002), as well as co-writing all the songs on 2004’s Headed For The Hills.
Patchwork River is much more of a rock record than their previous work. At times, it sounds almost like a Grateful Dead album, filled with tricky lyrics and grooves in the roots-rock tradition–especially on the title track. There’s a soulful feel that expands Lauderdale’s sound with tunes like the horn-laden “Louisville Roll” and “Good Together.” For country fans, there’s “Far In The Far Away” and “Between Your Heart And Mine,” both of which, with a little luck, will show up on a future George Strait album....full text
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