As 2013 drew to a close, Jim Lauderdale simultaneously released "Blue Moon Junction" and "Black Roses," albums that - quality aside - could not be more dissimilar.
Both co-written with Robert Hunter, their fifth and sixth such collaboration, "Blue Moon Junction" is Lauderdale performing solo, just acoustic guitar and voice. With such an effective presentation, one wonders why Lauderdale never before elected to present himself in such an unadorned fashion.
On "Blue Moon Junction," Lauderdale encourages songs to the fore as he has never before. With nothing between the lyric and listener but his voice and guitar, each word and note takes on additional dimension.
Consider the second stanza of Shadowfall, a mid-set song that reads like something one might uncover within a tome of obscure 18th century poetry:
"Songbirds were so strangely still this morning
Like during an eclipse as dark as light
All pretense of hope forever scorning
Exploding into shards of endless night."
Guitar absent, Lauderdale sings the words - more blue than depression - with the gravity of darkness compressing any hope, even as dice roll.
The album's opening track Land of My Dreams features a stranger "trying to find where he belongs, the right place to sing his songs" within its chorus. From all appearances, Lauderdale has found that locale on this album.
Hunter-Lauderdale pieces do not get better than Morgan Montague. Capturing a life set sometime in the past - Montague could have lived at any time over the past 500 years - Montague hangs for a crime he claims he didn't commit, although one suspects he is far from innocent. We know not much about him, beyond the knowledge that we stand where he died. This lack of clarity doesn't lessen the chill that "before the frost is on my grave, you'll lie beside me here."
Nocturnal riders and ancient words give 13 Horsemen definition, faith, shadow and fear conflicting within one's soul. Hunter's lyrical mysticism is on full display within the title track ("Junkshop of my passion, museum of memories...back in the long ago") with Lauderdale's voice - unhurried, direct, and plain - given every opportunity to reveal itself as original, as natural, and as dynamic as John Hiatt's and Bruce Springsteen's.
One can picture Lauderdale singing these songs from a stool within a sparsely populated venue, each listener sitting in stunned silence as songs reveal truths not before exposed, each song "peals of naked thunder or some solitary word."