Jim Lauderdale is one of those artists who's pretty renowned amongst the famous, but not widely known to the public. In a never-say-die career (this is his 33rd album!), he did bag two Grammys and probably logged enough road miles to get to the moon. This is the "homecoming" record for the North Carolina native. He's enlisted other Tar Heel talent like Steep Canyon Rangers and Balsam Range to assist with the proceedings. And it's always a treat (first single "As A Sign") when he dials up the songwriting prowess of old friend and Grateful Dead lyricist, the late Robert Hunter.
It's pretty simple. If you like good flatpicking and Appalachia music, you'll appreciate most of what's happening here. "Cacalacky" crackles with fiddle swing and big bluegrass guitar. "When Carolina Comes Home Again," written with John Oates, is another highlight. Check out the video to see the way cool converted church where the recording took place (Echo Mountain studio in Asheville, N.C.).
For all its use, Lauderdale's voice is in fine form. But it certainly helps when one writes uncomplicated melodies that won't overtax the performer (or listener). The lyrics vary - closing tune "Better Than You Found It" might be described as a secular gospel song (if there is such a thing). Lauderdale chases the ghost of Hank Williams on "Misery's Embrace" and ponders the fragility of a love pairing with "It Takes One to Wander."
Some tunes are a little too retro - "The Last to Know" is generic and dull - it's really not necessary to make throwaway country western records from the 1940s today. But overall, that's not what this is - if anything, it's some vintage clothes from the attic trunk that somehow still fit great and smell fresh. Take a trip to Cacalacky with Lauderdale as your tour guide, and you'll feel right at home.