The new new traditionalist 

Jim Lauderdale cranks it out

With 11 releases in just over 12 years, Nashville-based country artist Jim Lauderdale produces work at a pace unrivaled since the glory days of Music City. Even more impressive than quantity is the quality of his compositions, just about every track currently available is a keeper. He has also written a slew of hits for others, such as George Strait, Patty Loveless and George Jones. In spite of his efforts, Lauderdale is nowhere near as well known as his less talented radio-friendly peers. But, he doesn't seem to care.

In Nashville's tight little hipster circle and beyond, Lauderdale gets a lot of respect. His recent Grammy Award-winning duet album with bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley demonstrates that fact. It is just one of the many diverse avenues he has ventured down. "Music is a progression, and I like to do a wide variety of styles," says Lauderdale. "It evolves, and it's all healthy."

Currently touring to support his newest release with the eclectic New York-based folk-jam band Donna The Buffalo, Lauderdale describes the process of collaboration as a natural event: "I met the folks in DTB several years ago at one of the music festivals, and we formed an immediate kinship. We started out informally jamming and, it went so well, I began writing a bunch of songs with them in mind. It took a few years, but we finally got in the studio and cut the tracks."

Wait 'Till Spring was released this summer on Lauderdale's own Skycrunch Records. The album finds Lauderdale wrapping his songs in a deep funky groove, quite a departure from his forays into hardcore bluegrass. "Stylistically, we are all over the place on this album," he says. "Part of what appeals to me about DTB is their unique sound, and the fact that they are so good live. Playing festivals with them inspired me to be creative musically, and the exposure to new music at the festivals keeps things fresh."

Lauderdale takes this collaborative approach seriously, and in addition to working with DTB, he has been doing a lot with Grateful Dead guru Robert Hunter. "We have co-written an entire album, actually about 40 songs. We are in the process of editing it down for a March release. Traditional folk, bluegrass and country influenced a lot of the music from the Grateful Dead, and we are going back to the source of that stuff."

In addition to his impressive recording output, Lauderdale manages to find time for a variety of other musical endeavors. "For the last five years, I have been the chairman of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest, an event held at the annual Merlefest in North Carolina," he says. "What I try to do is distribute the entries around to other artists who are familiar with the genres represented, and then I participate in judging the finals. There are some really amazing writers out there, such as Tift Merritt, who won a few years ago."

Lauderdale began his musical career in plays such as Cotton Patch Gospel and Pump Boys & Dinettes, and earned the role of a country singer's lifetime last summer in Nashville. "I played George Jones in the Tammy Wynette musical. George came to see it, and I didn't know he was there until after the show. He enjoyed it and was very gracious." There is talk of a possible Cotton Patch Gospel revival featuring the original cast, including Atlantan Tom Key.

While he may appear to be spreading himself all over the musical map, Jim Lauderdale retains his love of classic country music. That's where he makes his living, and that's what he will continue to do. "Traditional country music is a dying art form, and I will continue to put out country albums for as long as I can."

Wonder where he finds the time?

music@creativeloafing.com

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