Nick Bollinger discusses the London excursion of Americana king Jim Lauderdale.
Why Jim Lauderdale isn’t a household name might be explained by a track like ‘Sweet Time’, the perfectly good tune that opens his perfectly good new album. It sounds like a country classic - only one that comes from 1961, not 2017. Originally from North Carolina, Lauderdale has been making records that look back fondly to bygone country styles since the mid-80s, as well as lending his skills as a harmony singer to everyone from Ralph Stanley to Lucinda Williams. So the fact that Lauderdale never became a Garth Brooks or a Toby Keith comes down to his good taste. But while his latest album is no more likely to make him a Nashville superstar than any of his others, neither is it an album he’s made before.
Lauderdale made this record in Britain with British musicians; the same musicians that usually play with that British throwback Nick Lowe. And there are moments here where Lauderdale comes as close as he ever has to an almost-Beatles For Sale-style rock’n’roll.
The piano playing of Geraint Watkins is particularly driving on a track like ‘This Is A Door’. Of course there’s a paradox here, being that Watkins and the rest of the band on this record got as good as they are by spending decades trying to sound American. Yet like Lauderdale their reverence is for a style of playing that has slipped out of fashion in modern-day Nashville. And the same goes for the kind of soul/R&B feel they strike up on ‘You Came To Get Me’.
As a songwriter, Lauderdale is prolific, often collaborating with other well-known writers. He’s often written with Robert Hunter, famous lyricist for the Grateful Dead. On this latest set he’s penned a couple of tunes with Dan Penn – author of ‘Dark End of the Street’ and ‘Do Right Woman’, among others – and, more surprisingly, John Oates, with whom he wrote the dramatic, Orbison-ian ‘If I Can’t Resist’.
Lauderdale apparently completed London Southern four years ago. Perhaps he was biding his time, wondering if this lovely, relaxed and empathetic kind of record would come back into style. But sadly the people qualified to make a record like this are getting harder to find. Since he made London Southern, its two producers – drummer Robert Trehern and multi-instrumentalist Neil Brockbank – have both died. Which makes a song like ‘We’ve Only Got So Much Time Here’ – on which Brockbank plays the lovely guitar solo – all the more poignant.
London Southern is available on Proper Records