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Jim Lauderdale

Reason and Rhyme – 2011 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Michael Berick

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CDs by Jim Lauderdale

It's tempting to think of Jim Lauderdale as a machine - he just keeps cranking out albums. "Reason and Rhyme" is his 11th release since 2002 and it continues his collaboration with lyricist Robert Hunter. They worked together on 2010's "Patchwork Quilt," although the bluegrass focus here recalls more their first teaming on 2004's "Headed For The Hills."

Characteristic of Lauderdale's work, this new effort exhibits a natural ease with the way his music, singing and lyrics come together. The tunes, for example, that open and close the disc - Cruel Wind and Rain and Janis Jones - could as easily be old bluegrass chestnuts as Hunter/Lauderdale originals. The duo also makes a nod to the past on Jack Dempsey's Crown, a terrific tale of a down-and-out boxer that refers to the great heavyweight champ of the '20s. Another standout track Don't Give A Hang offers a tale about a curmudgeonly man who doesn't like a lot of modern life ("about supermarket music in my ear (or) telephones that follow when you leave home."); however, he does care for the woman he loves. Lauderdale energizes the lamenting mood of Love's Voice with a wonderfully vibrant chorus. This tune also provides a strong showcase for Lauderdale's backing band, which features Nashville session stars like Mike Compton (whose mandolin lights up Fields of the Lord too), Scott Vestal (his banjo picking also fuels Doin' It On My Own), fiddler Tim Crouch, guitarist Randy Kohrs and bassist Jay Weaver. You can hear a bit of Lauderdale's one-time tour mate Elvis Costello creeping into Don't Tempt The Devil (With Your Love), while he goes all Southern Gothic on the macabre Not Let You Go.

This spirited bluegrass outing amply demonstrates Lauderdale's ability to effortlessly deliver timeless Americana music.