taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs

JIM LAUDERDALE Patchwork River

For a man who has spent much of his career balancing hit-making for the countrymusic elite and exploring every corner of the electric roots and bluegrass spheres, the pairing of Jim Lauderdale with another songwriter of unsurpassed achievement seems like the consummate partnership. For his 19 th album Patchwork River, the Troutman native Lauderdale invoked his ongoing songwriting relationship with Robert Hunter, the pen behind many of the Grateful Dead’s finest verses, to match a master of melody with the warden of wordplay. The outcome is a sweetly flawed survey of Americana from a distinctly Southern perspective that works hard to endear itself. Opener and album namesake “Patchwork River” is the kind of fare one has come to expect from Hunter: evocative, slice-of-life recollections impenetrably packed with affective imagery and allegory. Yet, unlike the nudie suits that Lauderdale wears with such grace, he labors to really own the verses that sound written for a voice less acquainted with the steadfast Nashville twang. Lyrics like “this man’s father is that man’s son/ brothers and sisters has he none” almost seem derivative of Dead opus American Beauty rather than the simple splendor found in Lauderdale’s Honey Songs and Could We Get Any Closer. Curiously enough, Patchwork River emerges from its foray into dense metaphor and plays almost perfectly to Lauderdale’s potency as a relatable storyteller with an arsenal of guitar chops at his disposal. He engages the swampy “Jawbone” with bluesy lucidity and gives one of the longest looks at his soulful side through “Good Together” and “Lousiville Roll,” the latter of which belongs in the ever-expanding canon of Lauderdale songs that can truly be qualified as great in both the lyrical and melodic sense. There are others that seem like a stretch for Hunter himself, such as the jaunty and unrefined “Turn To Stone,” but that doesn’t make them any less fun to listen to. Patty Griffin shows up to lend backing vocals on the historical travelogue “El Dorado” as one of the many high-profile guest spots, though none are impressed upon to a stand-out degree. This one clearly has the spotlight on the combined talents of Lauderdale and Hunter, and rightfully so.


Jim Lauderdale will perform solo sets on Friday and Saturday at this weekend’s MerleFest in Wilkesboro, along with a headlining performance on Saturday as a member of Elvis Costello & the Sugarcanes.

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