REVIEW: Jim Lauderdale – ‘London Southern’

LifeInASong_UK

Now this is a man who certainly doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet. In October last year we were reporting on Jim Lauderdale’s ‘This Changes Everything’ album, which focused its attentions on the Texan music scene. ‘London Southern’ couldn’t be further removed from the styles and flavours expressed in its recent predecessor.

Throughout a career that stretches back over the best part of 40 years, Lauderdale has never been adverse to a little diversity now and again. It helps when you own and operate a record label. Sky Crunch was set up in 2013 to enable him to release albums when it suited him and without creative restrictions. ‘We’ve Got A Different Kind of Groove Sometimes’ is the title of one of the many standouts on this album but it may just succinctly describe Jim Lauderdale’s latest project.

As the title suggests, it was recorded in London. Balham, London to be precise, with the assistance of Nick Lowe’s producers Neil Brockbank and the late Bobby Irwin. The association dates back to the 90s. Lauderdale supported Lowe on various tours and has also teamed up with 4 members of Lowe’s band for this project.

His back catalogue includes forays into soul and R&B, which is the direction that ‘London Southern’ takes its listeners. By soul and R&B, that would be the music that was immortalised by the great Stax and Chess recording artists of the 50s and 60s rather than the urban flavour that appears to be influencing some of our modern country chart artists. We used to have a weekly national radio show here in the UK called ‘Andy Peebles Soul Train’. There are one or two selections here that would have interested Mr Peebles.

The aforementioned ‘Different Kind Of Groove Sometimes’ features backing vocals from co-writer John Oates, Bekka Bramlett and Lala Deaton and the biggest praise that can be given is that it sounds like it could have been written by the great Sam Dees in the 70s. It’s a powerhouse of a song which gradually introduces organ, strings and horns to create an old-school delight that puts you back in a time and place that you didn’t expect to be in.

The opener ‘Sweet Time’, with its innocuous guitar-strumming introduction, doesn’t prepare you for its retro country/soul style that has a mindset deeply set in the glory R&B days of the late 50s and early 60s, when tunes like this would be regularly gracing the airwaves.

‘I Love You More’ takes the pace down several notches with its dreamy string and piano backing. Has Lauderdale ever done anything like this before? More importantly, has he ever produced a body of work with such consistent quality?

The production values and instrumentation give this project a watermark that is rarely achieved. The ability to recreate the flavour that was the stamp of the genre of music expressed here is what makes this such a pleasurable listening experience.

‘You Came To Get Me’ sounds like one of those rare R&B underground tracks that the Northern Soul jocks of yesterday would champion. Sax, trumpet, keyboards and the easy beat that made the dance floors heave and the price of the original vinyl sky rocket.

The McCrary Sisters provide vocal accompaniment on the southern gospel/blues flavoured ‘What Have You Got To Lose’, which is perhaps one of the few occasions where the authenticity of Lauderdale’s vocal style fails to entirely match the way that you would expect the song to be performed. Lauderdale is certainly adaptable but he doesn’t sing the blues like Trombone Shorty or even Steve Earle.

However, listening to ‘London Southern’ is a hugely rewarding experience. For a guy that has developed a formidable reputation as a country/americana artist, he sure does possess awesome chameleon-like qualities. ‘No Right Way To Be Wrong’ is a 60s throwback which is very reminiscent of Georgie Fame’s ‘Yey Yey’, and Sturgill fans will appreciate the vibes in ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’.

There is very little to excite those that follow the US country charts and you won’t be hearing this on country radio. However, you may be hearing it mentioned on next year’s Grammy awards. Jim Launderdale has won Grammy awards previously in the Bluegrass and Americana categories, and he may have just sealed himself another nomination.

Graham Wharton

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