If Time Flies reveals how flexible Lauderdale is as both a songwriter and a performer, Jim Lauderdale & Roland White gives listeners a much more focused artist.
With 30 or so albums over 27 years, Jim Lauderdale has always been busy, so it’s no surprise that he released two albums on the same day. That he recorded them nearly 40 years apart makes the releases at least a bit unusual. The new album, Time Flies, shows him working with different musicians in different genres, bringing his breadth of experience to an energetic new project. The old (but newly released) album, Jim Lauderdale & Roland White shows him at his start, his first proper recording coming out now not just steeped in tradition but actually part of the tradition he draws from.
Lauderdale, in his constant sifting through roots music, has frequently shown his flexibility. In 2015, he released Soul Searching, a double album divided into a disc of Memphis sounds and another of Nashville music. Each disc had the trademarks of its host city, yet the set sounded consistently like a Lauderdale release. Time Flies doesn’t make such a clear split, but the singer and guitarist works through the influences that strike him as he goes, as if compressing his own listening into a single burst.
“The Road Is a River” provides the highlight, with its bluesy rock and thoughtful lyrics. The opening title track and its bookend closer “If the World’s Still Here Tomorrow” stick with classic Nashville, a bit of misdirection for an album that moves around considerably. “Wild on Me Fast” swings, and “Slow as Molasses” looks far back to old-time music. Across the album, Lauderdale experiments with some shuffling, some rocking and some patient, texture-based music. “It Blows My Mind” turns almost psychedelic, though Lauderdale’s vocals ground it in Americana.
If Time Flies reveals how flexible Lauderdale is as both a songwriter and a performer, Jim Lauderdale & Roland White gives listeners a much more focused artist. Recorded in 1979 but long buried after it failed to find a label, the disc pairs Lauderdale with noted mandolinist White on a much more traditional recording. Lauderdale brings a few originals to the album, but they primarily play covers and standard country fare. It’s a strong record, bolstered by the presence of a young Marty Stuart, but there’s no indication that Lauderdale would become the Grammy-winning star that he did. It’s also inexplicable that he’d have a 12-year gap before releasing his proper debut Planet of Love, a strange and varied record that makes more sense in retrospect than in its time. The space between 1979 and 1991 must have been a curious era, though it seems likely Lauderdale read some Shel Silverstein. He sings one of his songs on the record with White and then writes one called “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”
The musical gap between Time Flies and Jim Lauderdale & Roland White is, in some ways, as large as the decades between their recordings. In 1979, Lauderdale was a kid, energized by playing with a mentor, but held a little in check by genre strictures, even if he performed well. A dozen years later, he’d be helping to shape a certain strain of Americana. By now, he’s fully liberated, cherry-picking the sounds he wants for any given song or those that suit his collaborators of the moment. His singing voice still resonates, maybe even more so as he enters his 60s than it did in his early 20s. Doing something new 40 years ago meant simply getting some music onto tape. It takes a lot more than that to be a novel experience for Lauderdale, yet he sounds like someone still relishing a chance to get in the studio.