Just a year since his last Whelans appearance, Grammy Winner Jim Lauderdale returned for a solo show. One of the most influential singer/songwriters on the country/Americana music scene for the past twenty five years Jim has recorded over twenty albums. His songs have been covered by Vince Gill, George Strait, Elvis Costello, Patty Loveless, Lee Ann Womack and The Dixie Chicks among others. He has been particularly prolific in recent years with three album releases in 2013 alone, followed by the twenty track I’m A Song album released last year. “It’s really a double album but we squeezed it onto one disc to save plastic and be environmentally aware’’ was his ironic comment.
Immaculately dressed in a Manuel ying-yang logoed shirt and trouser creation, Lauderdale took the stage and treated the audience to ninety minutes of bluegrass and country songs with nods to rock, blues and soul with the material drawn from his debut album Planet of Love through to songs from an upcoming release recorded in London with Nick Lowe’s band.
Jim’s stage presence and charisma are unquestioned, but a genuine warmness is evident towards his audience, with eye contacts, smiles and banter throughout. “It’s good to be home” he announced after the first two songs and if the same line is to be rolled out at every gig, he makes it sound as if it is really from the heart.
A broken guitar string during one song barely interrupts his rhythm as he casually changes guitars mid-song before requesting assistance from the audience to replace the broken string. His setlist features selections from his collaborations with Dr.Ralph Stanley (Feel Like Singing Today) and Robert Hunter (Black Roses) together with the title track from one of Lauderdale’s three 2013 releases, Old Times Angels, a song co-written with Daniel J Smith. To compensate for being solo Lauderdale jokes that “in the absence of my crack backing band I need to sing the steel guitar sections’’ and does so. Note should be taken of his guitar playing skill that mixes solid rhythm with some excellent lead lines.
The King of Broken Hearts follows, written in tribute to Gram Parsons and George Jones. This has also been recorded by George Strait and Lee Ann Womack and has been rerecorded for I’m A Song as the original version, which featured Emmylou Harris, is no loner in print; something that is unfortunately true of many of his earlier albums. The song also is the title of a documentary of Jim’s musical journey. His excellent 2006 album The Hummingbirds is represented by the rootsy title track and There and Back Again.
The set finished with Trashcan Tomcat and the title track of Headed for the Hills, Lauderdale’s 2004 album co-written with Robert Hunter.. The encore fittingly comprised Lost My Job of Loving You and It Hurt Me a song from Buddy and Jim, the album recorded with close friend Buddy Miller.
Hopefully Jim Lauderdale can deliver on his ambition to host his Music City Roots show in Dublin in the future, as he mentioned, but in the meantime one is left with the memory of enjoying a very special artist who, as he usually does, mingled with the audience after the show. This was a fitting end to a fine evening.
Review by Declan Culliton Photograph by Ronnie Norton Edited by Sandy Harsch