Friday, January 18, 2013

Safe and Sound: Buddy and Jim

Buddy and Jim (New West, 2013) is a new album by Buddy Miller, guitarist and producer, and Jim Lauderdale, long time singer-songwriter, who’s less known in the mainstream of country music. They’ve been singing together for years but this is their first album; and although it's a solid piece of work, it’s also in pretty safe territory. Part of the weakness of the record is a certain “sameness” because Lauderdale sings harmony on every track with little opportunity to take the lead. While that choice makes this album a serious “duo” record, the music doesn’t provide enough variety to showcase such talented singers.

Jim Lauderdale has recorded 19 albums in his career, mostly bridging country and bluegrass music. In 2002, he was named Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year in the inaugural Americana Music Awards (AMA). Buddy Miller was honored with the same title in 2009. So, on one level, it makes musical sense for the talented pair to make their first record. Interestingly, this new release has little bluegrass music on it, as the duo has chosen to play straight-ahead country tunes with a few covers. The album kicks off with “I Lost My Job of Loving You” full of the bittersweet humour typical of a Miller song that makes a great sequel to “Love Match” from Cruel Moon (1999). It’s quickly followed up the by first of two traditional songs on the record, “The Train that Carried My Girl from Town.” This tune has the strongest bluegrass feel in the arrangement featuring some tasteful fills by Stuart Duncan on fiddle. This track is surpassed in tempo by the closer, “The Wobble,” a classic R&B number originally recorded by Jimmy McCracklin; one which really kicks in this rockabilly arrangement. One of the great talents of Buddy Miller is his ability to re-invent songs in a new style. This track counts as one of his finest.

Buddy and Jim's stand out track is written by Buddy’s wife and musical partner, Julie. “It Hurts Me” features a great harmony vocal from Lauderdale perfectly matching Buddy’s heartfelt delivery. Despite the record's flaws, every tune is well played and masterfully recorded. Buddy and Jim was completed last August at Miller’s home studio in Nashville, which is slowly becoming an important place to record. Next month, for instance, Richard Thompson’s new album, Electric, which was recorded at Miller’s studio last spring, is due for release. I can hardly wait.

John Corcelli is a musician and broadcaster.

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