Jim Lauderdale's latest record has the potential to slip into what's becoming a genre of its own: dull, monotonous acoustic music so stripped down that by the fifth song you're pining for Shania Twain.
The title alone is a tipoff this is going to be a very acoustic record. While it is just down off the mountain, Lauderdale and songwriting partner and Grateful dead lyricist Robert Hunter (who does not appear on the 13-song disc) shift gears often enough to stave off the boredom. Lauderdale's guests - a list that includes Allison Moorer, Emmylou Harris, Tim O'Brien and Gillian Welch - also keep it lively.
Lauderdale and Moorer misfire a couple times but really bring it home with the duet "Head for the Sun," while the waltz "High Timberline" is a vocal dream with Harris on high harmonies topping O'Brien's fluid mandolin.
This album adds to Lauderdale's legacy as one of country's best songwriters, but also shows off his collaborative abilities - in the studio for sure, but on the sheet music too. Lauderdale and Hunter take mountain music to reasonable heights - not an easy task these days.