As 2013 closed, Jim Lauderdale released "Black Roses" and "Blue Moon Junction" at the same time, although the albums are wildly different.
If "Blue Moon Junction" represents artist as troubadour, then "Black Roses" is a swampy mass of swirling sounds. It is a full-blown roots rock extravaganza featuring Muscle Shoals soul anchored by the likes of Spooner Oldham and David Hood, and North Mississippi All-Stars' Luther (who also produces) and Cody Dickinson, with additional vocals from like-minded independent spirits like Amy Levere and Shannon McNally.
At times heavy, alternately breezy and groovy, this 50-minute bluesy set is everything "Blue Moon Junction" and Lauderdale's recent bluegrass disc "Old Time Angels" aren't. Yet, it is equally as successful in delivering Lauderdale's vision of what country music could be and what Americana is.
Within its bottomless, blustery opening track, Lauderdale sings Hunter's lyric of being "Alabama bound," and that comes through not only on this number, but throughout the album. "Black Roses" has deep grooves and pulsing rhythms. While Hunter's lyrics always matter, what appears most significant here is the mood the album influences - sweaty, booty shakin', primal blues guitar-driven roots rock.
Where on "Blue Moon Junction" Lauderdale gets more intimate and 'in the box' than ever before, on "Black Roses" Lauderdale has blown the box apart.
While louder than previous releases, "Black Roses" isn't all bluster. During the middle portion, Lauderdale and his colleagues inject the proceedings with coolness via Ride On and 13 Clocks and elsewhere, songs on which Oldham and Hood are allowed opportunity to stretch things further into their traditional comfort zone. Taking the Rap is also gentle, a jazzy shuffle that one can imagine over the closing credits of "Boardwalk Empire." When Lauderdale sings of Tossing Pebbles at the Sky, he is the lonesome loser wallowing in isolation.
A returning veteran finds things aren't as they were promised within When Jones Came Home, and Lauderdale delivers Hunter's thoughts with a My Generation-esque sneer: "It's never the facts, just how they're slanted."
With steady rhythm and a mix of boisterous noisy boy rock and slow dance ready introspection, "Black Roses" reminds us of what The Blasters almost accomplished in their all-too-brief heyday. Moving forward, not every Jim Lauderdale now needs to sound like "Black Roses," but it is certainly a successful and interesting step toward the darker side of country music.