The 11 songs that make up the new album by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale are nothing different from the straight-forward country songs they've been turning out for years. There's a rocker or two, a ballad or two, a Cajun dance tune and a country shuffle, all solidly written and unpretentiously presented.
Likewise, the production values and the song arrangements that comprise the 35 minutes or so of music on "Buddy and Jim" are nothing much to write home about. The production is functional, neither too glitzy nor too rough, and the playing, while as sharp as one would expect, doesn't jump out of the speakers as anything particularly out of the ordinary.
So what is it about Buddy and Jim, an unassuming little record that's sneaking in the back door of 2012, that makes it an 11th hour contender to be one of the best Americana records of the year? It's the fact that Miller and Lauderdale don't need earth-moving songs, glitzy production or overbearing arrangements to make a great record. All they need is a good vibe, a smart turn of a phrase and a few friends around a microphone to make something special.
Witness I Lost The Job Of Loving You, the grinding country rocker that opens the album. "We had a thing, we had a vibe, I made it like a 9-to-5," the pair growl in unison, shifting in and out of rattling drums and slippery rhythm guitars. With an economy of words and concise array of instrumentation, they create a flat out great country song. The Train That Carried My Girl Out Of Town is equally adept, a cut that sounds like a rumbling ride from Hooterville to Pixley, reminscent of Steve Earle's Silver Eagle or Jimmie Dale Gilmore's Forth Worth To Dallas (albeit rolling a few miles slower).
If you're a fan of contemporary country, expect to hear a version of That's Not Even Why Love You recorded by Hunter Hayes or Luke Bryan within the next 20 minutes of so (if they're smart). Forever And A Day is wonderful, a medium tempo ballad that would've sounded beautiful in the repertoire of Roy Orbison (and might be worthy of a visit from Raul Malo. Gary Allan already recorded it.) and Lonely One In This Town, a raw bit of back porch shuffle is eminently singable.
There are a few songs that fall flat: Down South In New Orleans is a bit mundane as the song that follows That's Not Even Why I Love and Vampire Girl, a quirky cocktail Richie Valens and Wall of Voodoo, is a bit too silly to really gather any traction. But, the pair wrap rock and roll parenthesis around the proceedings with The Wobble, a perfect blend of Carl Perkins wiggle and Del Shannon pop. It may be a simple record in a variety of ways but, as one would expect, Buddy and Jim manage to make simple simply spectacular. Buy this record.