Lauderdale & Robert Hunter
For The Hills” finds the highly prolific Jim
Lauderdale pairing with Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert
Hunter, to create a lyrical and musical masterpiece. Lauderdale
continues to expand into the growing jam-band movement, following last
year’s project with Donna The Buffalo (“Wait
‘til Spring” - Dualtone 80302011402). The album
features guest appearances from Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch,
Buddy Miller, Allison Moorer, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott.
JIM LAUDERDALE - Headed For The Hills
On Headed For The Hills Jim Lauderdale fulfils a personal goal: To record an entire album of songs written with one of his heroes, Robert Hunter.
"There's no one in the world who writes quite like Robert", Lauderdale says of the California-based lyricist best known for his collaborations with the late Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. "He's a storyteller, and he has a way of showing his roots in bluegrass and old-time folk music that has its own unique twist. His lyrics are so literate yet so accessible, and they make for these great, one-of-a-kind songs."
Lauderdale first contacted Hunter five years ago. Lauderdale had long considered asking the famed lyricist about co-writing together, and he figured the moment to introduce the idea had arrived. At the time, Lauderdale was preparing songs for his duet project with Ralph Stanley. He knew Hunter, like Garcia, was a long-time devotee of the Stanley Brothers.
To Lauderdale's delight, Hunter accepted his invitation. Within one project, Lauderdale fulfilled two personal goals: to sing with Ralph Stanley and to write with Robert Hunter.
Their first two co-writes - "Joy Joy Joy" and "I Will Wait For You" - anchored I Feel Like Singing Today, the first Jim Lauderdale / Ralph Stanley album. "Live, those two songs were real crowd favourites the singer says.
Lauderdale put another of his first Hunter co-writes, "Trust (Guiding Star)", on his country album Onward Through It All. Then when Lauderdale, Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Brothers re-convened for a second bluegrass album, the Grammy-winning Lost In The Lonesome Pines, they recorded two more Hunter / Lauderdale collaborations, "Deep Well Of Sadness" and "Oh! Soul".
"For those songs, Robert would send me lyrics, and I'd write the melodies and music", Lauderdale recalls. "His songs read like poems, they're so perfectly put together. It sounds like a cliché, but it's true. Just reading the words and the natural rhythm of the lyrics would inspire the music. There's just something magical about them."
Similarly inspired, Hunter decided to travel to Nashville, ultimately spending six weeks soaking up the town and writing with his newfound creative partner. "I'd go over and hang out with him about every other day or so", Lauderdale explains. "We'd talk for a while, then work on a song."
This time the two men reversed their usual work process. "I'd put a melody down on tape and Robert would write lyrics to it", Lauderdale says. "I'd leave him something, and the next time I came by, he'd have a finished song."
The two wrote a mind-boggling 34 songs during that period, many of which ended up on Headed For The Hills, Lauderdale's sixth album for Dualtone Records.
"Robert's such a gracious, down-to-earth person, but I hold him in such high regard that I still have a hard time believing this is happening", Lauderdale says. "I liken it to working with George Jones or Ralph Stanley, two of my other heroes. In my opinion, he's in the Mount Rushmore of musical greats. He's contributed so much powerful music to his generation. So I hope this album goes a little way to helping more people realise what a great songwriter he is."
The proof is on the record: From the mystical Civil War story-song, "Sandy Ford (Barbara Lee)" to the existential heartbreak of "Tales From The Sad Hotel", from the jaunty road tune "Leaving Mobile" to the mountain blues of the title cut, the new album illustrates the singular vision derived from the creative communion of these two visionary artists.
Produced with long
time co-producer Tim Coats, Headed For The Hills concentrates on acoustic
arrangements - the only time besides his two bluegrass albums that Lauderdale
has worked without drums. The arrangements highlight the sharp ensemble
play of the singer's handpicked backing band, which includes Bryan Sutton,
Pat McGraith, Tim O'Brien, David Rawlings, Darrell Scott, Bucky Baxter
and Bryon House. Emmylou Harris, Allison Moorer, Gillian Welch and Buddy
Miller add harmony vocals. The one song with drums is the closer, a Lauderdale
/ Hunter song that the singer recorded with the
"One of the great rewards of making records the way I do is that I get to fulfil some dreams and work with people I really admire", Lauderdale says. "It gives me the opportunity to call someone like Gillian Welch or Tim O' Brien, who I hadn't worked with before, and ask if they would like to come into the studio with us. It really adds to the joy of recording music."
Working with others has become an integral part of Lauderdale's record making in recent years. Headed For The Hills is the latest in a series of collaborative efforts that finds the veteran Americana artist exploring different aspects of his prodigious creativity.
"Working like this gives me direction and purpose", he says. "It forces me to open myself to different things, to take what I do in a direction I might not naturally go. I also like having a central project in mind - it helps me get things done when someone else is involved. It's a real motivator."
His previous album, 2003's Wait 'Til Spring, found the North Carolina native working with the wide-open grooves of the roots / jam band Donna The Buffalo. As USA Today described it, "Wait 'Til Spring is the rare collaboration that allows both acts to blossom."
Besides his two solo albums for Dualtone - 2002's Hummingbirds and 2000's The Other Sessions - Lauderdale also drew acclaim for his pair of bluegrass albums with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, the first of which (Feel Like Singing Today) pre-dated Stanley's celebrated national christening as part of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, and was nominated for a Grammy.
Besides his 2002 Grammy for Bluegrass Album of the year for the second Stanley collaboration, Lost In Lonesome Pines, Lauderdale was given the Americana Music Association's first Entertainer of the Year award the same year. In addition, Lauderdale won the Americana Music Association's "Song of the Year" with the Lauderdale / Stanley collaboration "She's Looking At Me".
After his '90s success
as one of Nashville's most recorded and successful songwriters - with
hits by George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless, Mark Chesnutt
and many others - Lauderdale has broadened his audience and f inally begun
receiving more attention for his own records and concerts. His '90s recordings
for Warner Bros., Atlantic and RCA garnered loads of critical acclaim
and a loyal cult following, and his move to the prime independent Dualtone
gave him even more creative freedom - and the
"It's been a particularly great period for me", says Lauderdale. "I'm with a label that's passionate about music, and they'll let me bring unusual ideas to them. Thanks to the records, I'm performing more and more, which I love. And I love that I can play the Opry one weekend, a jam band festival the next, and a bluegrass festival the following week. That's real inspiring to me, and I think there's a real thread there. The roots are the same for all of them, and that's the music I'm interested in."
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