Jim Lauderdale Reflects on Legendary, ‘Left-of-Center’ Career
During the recent Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Jim Lauderdale was positively everywhere.
He hosted the Americana Music Association’s annual awards show at the Ryman Auditorium, something he has done since the inaugural ceremony in 2002. Lauderdale held forth at his own showcase, performing songs from his most recent album, I’m a Song — the fourth the prolific singer/songwriter has released in the last 12 months. He also sat in on a set of classic country songs at Robert’s Western World and a bluegrass jam session at the Station Inn.
There were other extracurriculars as well, including his hosting the weekly Music City Roots radio program, as he does frequently, and an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
Earlier in the week, the 57-year-old country preservationist attended a screening of Jim Lauderdale: The King of Broken Hearts, a just-released documentary tracing his life and career, shot by Australian filmmaker Jeremy Dylan. Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all that, he managed to squeeze in some sessions for a forthcoming bluegrass album.
In King of Broken Hearts, Lauderdale’s friend and sometime co-writer Odie Blackmon advances the theory that “Jim feeds on chaos.” Which pretty much has to be true, right?
“Well, I don’t consciously, and it’s not that I crave it or anything like that,” Lauderdale tells Rolling Stone Country. “But unfortunately, that just seems to be what happens. I love making records and writing songs and getting onstage. There’s this zone where I feel most alive and comfortable — when a good song is coming through me or I’m onstage and things just fall into place.”
By remaining open to inspiration, disdainful of genre restrictions, and in almost perpetual motion, Lauderdale has been granted access to that precious zone on numerous occasions throughout a recording career that spans a quarter century. He’s hailed as a founding father of the loose aggregation of rootsy styles and sensibilities gathered under the big tent of Americana. Others regard him as a country traditionalist, pointing, reasonably, to I’m a Song, an omnibus of classic country tropes from dusty Bakersfield honkytonk and jazzy swing to barroom weepers, sophisticated Countrypolitan sounds and beyond. His own records have seldom found their place on the charts, but Lauderdale’s songs have often been a rich vein of material (and numerous hits) for the likes of George Strait, Patty Loveless, the Dixie Chicks, Elvis Costello, Mark Chesnutt, Gary Allan, Lee Ann Womack and others. Lauderdale has won a pair of Grammy Awards — not for country music, mind you, but rather bluegrass; one of them for an album recorded with one of his heroes, Dr. Ralph Stanley.
Taking the long view of a career with more than its share of phases and stages, Lauderdale admits that things are just fine, thanks. “But it’s funny,” he says. “Nothing in my career has ever worked out the way I’d planned it.”
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