Time flies, indeed, when you’re having fun making 31 albums over four decades, and Jim Lauderdale is still having fun as he continues to explore various musical styles in his nomadic creativity. He’s releasing his newly recorded Time Flies on the same day as he’s releasing his long-lost “first album,” Jim Lauderdale & Roland White. The new album testifies to Lauderdale’s enduring love of traveling through many musical landscapes, from ragtime and airy jazz to stomping rock and country.
The title track opens with a straight-ahead country flair, steel guitars floating under spare guitar downstrums, before blossoming into a full soulful ballad that captures the wistful longing for the past and the reflective acceptance of moving onto the next stage. The music shifts on the song’s bridge to a Beatles-like psychedelic-tinged vibe: “After the changes / You can’t turn nothing back / The different stages / Have played a different act / To our amazement we almost made it / Until the curtain calls.”
Propelled by Chris Scruggs’ searing lead riffs, “The Road is a River” marches on with Lauderdale’s recitation of the song’s verses that sing of the ongoing destruction of the natural world: “The earth is a body in pain / moaning underneath our feet / oil flowing through her veins / but with the people swimming up the street.” The haunting minor chord tune recalls the atmospheric tunes of the early Fleetwood Mac’s Bare Trees album. A twinkling, tongue-in-cheek love song to the color violet — “they say you’re the highest light of all / and you get to be a flower, too” — “Violet” shimmers with bright colors and musical hues, led by Kenny Vaughan’s lead riffs and Lauderdale’s canny lyrics.
“Slow as Molasses” is a humorous music hall tune whose chorus features such Alice-in-Wonderland-esque lines such as: “I could even ride a caterpillar / just to try to get there faster / there’s no guarantee / when I’d arrive.” The speed jazz that underlies the musical structure of “Wearing Out Your Cool” mimics the speed with which the haughty fall; Robbie Crowell’s sax provides an emotional depth to the music and captures the slinky haughtiness of “cool.” “While You’re Hoping” scampers along a ragtime beat as Lauderdale spills out his clever lyrics: “I’ll bet the atoms and the molecules were shy at first / then got the swing of things as time went rolling on.” The album closes with the apocalyptically tinged waltz, “If the World’s Still Here Tomorrow,” that would be at home on any George Jones album.
Jim Lauderdale is still having fun, and he’s not letting time fly too quickly, snatching every minute he can and filling it with music. There’s a tune on Time Flies for every taste, and it’s Lauderdale’s creative genius that confirms that he’s the answer to that old country music question about who’s gonna fill the shoes of Jones and other country songwriters.