Resplendent in a sparkly purple Nudie suit, Jim Lauderdale held a master class in showmanship. As one of the most respected artists and songwriters in Americana, bluegrass and country music today, his power and command and firery delivery completely blew the doors off the place.
Letting the songs do the talking, Lauderdale and his tight band charged through numbers reaching back 20 years, opening with "Life By Numbers," "What's On My Mind," "If I Were You," "Divide & Conquer" and "Fireball." Coming up for air -- and giving the audience a chance to catch their collective breath, too -- Lauderdale took time to admire the room and its acoustics, as well as compliment the work of house soundman Shalom Aberle.
An early highlight, and arguably the heart of the performance and the essence of the man himself, was the lilting title cut from his 2014 double album, I'm A Song, his 26th release to date. "I'm a song, I'm a song / And the band plays on and on. / Don't know another way / There's still so much to say. / I'm a song, you're a song, we're a song." He also shared “The King of Broken Hearts”, a song from his out-of-print solo debut, Planet of Love, re-recorded for the double album. Lauderdale plays it at just about every show as a tribute to Gram Parsons and George Jones.
Lauderdale's collaborative work is wide-ranging and impressive, and this night he featured songs from his work with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter ("Patchwork River"), Elvis Costello ("I Lost You"), Nick Lowe ("Always on the Outside") and Buddy Miller ("I Lost My Job of Loving You"). The super-tight band included Eddie Lang, pedal steel; Scott Trayer, bass; Dave Racine, drums; and Craig Smith on electric guitar, an amazing musician who accompanied Suzy Bogguss a few months back at this same venue.
Lauderdale excused the band for a beautiful solo on "Lost in the Lonesome Pines" a Ralph Stanley collaboration, "Grace's Song" (an audience request) and an unnamed tune on his upcoming London Southern recorded with Nick Lowe's band in London, a "Beatles-countryish-soul album" according to Lauderdale. The melancholy, torchy ballad spoke of unrequited love and buried emotions: "I love you more than I let on / I'm overwhelmed, but you can't tell."
An encore of more than a half-dozen songs included yet another new song, the soul-influenced "The Game" from the upcoming Under The Radar album (Sept. 11 release), and yet another new song from a current project recorded in Nashville's legendary RCA Studio A, "Tarzan Houdini," a sort of swamp-rock (jungle rock?) concoction featuring two of Lauderdale's childhood heroes. Seriously, the man has such a deep song catalog that he could have gone on for another couple of hours.
Opener Adam Klein, based in Athens, GA, got things started with selections from his upcoming Archer's Arrow , "Song for A New Year" and "Radar Man," a reworked poem Klein’s grandfather wrote during a stint as a radio and radar repair technician in Philippines during World War II, and "Restless Soul" and the title cut from his excellent Sky Blue Deville (2013). Local musician Nick Whitson accompanied Klein with haunting electric guitar sounds.
Klein's rustic brand of country/folk hides a much deeper and more fascinating artist, and a well-traveled one at that. In 2012 Klein released his first "world music" record, Dugu Wolo, an original West African Mande roots music collection of songs performed in the Bambara language and colored by traditional Malian instrumentation (understandably, none of which he performed this night). An associated documentary film is in the works. Klein is also the founder of independent label Cowboy Angel Music and co-founder of the annual Athens Americana Music Festival in Athens, Georgia.
Photo by Tom Garland