Walter Tunis: Jim Lauderdale, Buddy Miller make fine pair on new album

Contributing Music WriterJanuary 31, 2013 

An album tour brings Jim Lauderdale, left, and Buddy Miller to Louisville on Friday.

MICHAEL WILSON

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    Lucinda Williams at Kentucky Country Day Theatre in Louisville: Nearly 15 years after its release, the chorus to Joy — the most pivotal track of Lucinda Williams' most essential album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road — remains the single most potent and succinct lyric in a catalogue filled with brilliant songs of love, loss, betrayal and, occasionally, redemption. "You took my joy. I want it back." Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

    Last week at Louisville's KCD Theatre, Williams seriously got her joy back. That's not to say her live shows have ever been as desolate as her songs. But with a sold-out audience before her and a 60th birthday just two days away, the acclaimed Americana songstress cut loose.

    During the closing minutes of a two-hour performance aided by guitarist Doug Pettibone, Williams invited the show-opening Kenneth Brian Band, a fine indie country-rock troupe from Alabama, onstage and tore into Get Right With God, prompting a modest tent revival clap-along and a finale in which the singer put down her guitar and simply danced to the groove.

    Dancing the night away in front of your audience as you're about to turn the big 6-0. Now that's what you call getting your joy back.

    Of course, there were all kinds of other delights packed into the show, including three achingly lovely tunes from the 2003 album World Without Tears (the show-opening title track, People Talkin' and Over Time), a wonderful vocal duet version with Pettibone of Jailhouse Tears packed with exquisitely profane humor, several unrecorded new songs highlighted by the country-fried Bitter Memory (with Pettibone tastefully working in licks from the Chuck Berry classic Memphis) and a sterling impromptu cover of the Tammy Wynette hit Apartment #9 that boasted the same stark emotive cast as Williams' own songs.

    Joy was there, too, but it steered closer to the stripped-down strident version featured on the new West of Memphis soundtrack than the rockish Car Wheels original. While the intent was unchanged, this Joy stood as a boozy, bruised blast of defiance that sounded, as did all of this splendid performance, positively youthful.

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, Derek Hoke

8 p. Feb. 1 at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd., Louisville. $20. (502) 584-8088. Headlinerslouisville.com.

Here's one of the more primo PR lines making the rounds in news releases about Buddy and Jim, the new collaborative album by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale: "It took three days to make, but it sounds like it took four."

That comes from the usually all- business Miller as opposed to the typically wisecracking Lauderdale. But personas and time tend to blur gloriously when you listen to Buddy and Jim.

Pals for decades, they have independently become two of the most revered names in Americana music.

Miller came to local attention in August 1996, when he performed as guitarist in Emmylou Harris' band Spyboy for a sold-out show at The Kentucky Theatre. Several subsequent club appearances with his wife, Julie Miller, later spread the word about original songs filled with an encyclopedic understanding of country music and guitar abilities that stretched from roots-savvy rock 'n' roll to gorgeously ambient instrumentation.

He returned to Lexington during the past decade as part of the star-studded Down From the Mountain Tour, an all-star quartet called Three Girls and Their Buddy (featuring Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin) and the wildly popular Raising Sand Tour with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

But Miller's recording projects have been even more eclectic. Before Buddy & Jim, he released a guitar record called The Majestic Silver Strings that blurred genres from vintage roots music to hip-hop flavored revisionism with help from Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz.

Next week, Miller offers another great record by serving as producer and co-guitarist on Electric, the new studio album by British songwriter and guitar demon Richard Thompson.

Lauderdale, on the other hand, has been a versed country songsmith for years but began rediscovering a passion for bluegrass through several joint recordings with Ralph Stanley. A favorite in Lexington venues for a time, he was absent from local stages for several years until two prominent appearances last year: at the Festival of the Bluegrass in June and at the Christ the King Oktoberfest in September.

That brings us to Buddy and Jim, a collection of duets that steers predominantly to traditional country but with a guitar sound that merrily disregards genres as it sails from the '30s-era back-porch honky-tonk of the Mississippi Sheiks' Lonely One in This Town to the Jerry-Lee-Lewis-meets-Robby-and-the-Daytonas strut of Jim McCrackin's 1959 rocking dance classic The Wobble to a sterling set of originals by Miller and Lauderdale.

The catch to all this fun is that the only regional stop thus far in the winter tour supporting Buddy and Jim requires a trip to Headliners in Louisville on Friday. But, hey, it's the weekend. A little road trip seems a minor inconvenience when you have a chance to do the Wobble.

Also this weekend

■ Lexington hip-hop stylist Devine Carama hits the road for The Devine Experience Tour. The kickoff show is Friday at Al's Bar, Sixth Street and North Limestone, with a troupe of fellow Lexington MCs that includes JustMe, Rob Jackson, Decypha and J. Shelbs. (10 p.m. $5. (859) 309-2901. Alsbarlexington.com.). The tour hits Nashville on Saturday and will play Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Philadelphia and more during the next few weeks.

■ Finally, we have a rare wintertime outing with Central Kentucky's own John Michael Montgomery. The veteran Nicholasville country star will perform Saturday night following a day of kid-friendly horse activities at the Kentucky Horse Park's Kentucky Round-Up. (7 p.m. $25-$35. Kentuckyroundup.com.)


THE WEEK THAT WAS

Lucinda Williams at Kentucky Country Day Theatre in Louisville: Nearly 15 years after its release, the chorus to Joy — the most pivotal track of Lucinda Williams' most essential album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road — remains the single most potent and succinct lyric in a catalogue filled with brilliant songs of love, loss, betrayal and, occasionally, redemption. "You took my joy. I want it back." Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

Last week at Louisville's KCD Theatre, Williams seriously got her joy back. That's not to say her live shows have ever been as desolate as her songs. But with a sold-out audience before her and a 60th birthday just two days away, the acclaimed Americana songstress cut loose.

During the closing minutes of a two-hour performance aided by guitarist Doug Pettibone, Williams invited the show-opening Kenneth Brian Band, a fine indie country-rock troupe from Alabama, onstage and tore into Get Right With God, prompting a modest tent revival clap-along and a finale in which the singer put down her guitar and simply danced to the groove.

Dancing the night away in front of your audience as you're about to turn the big 6-0. Now that's what you call getting your joy back.

Of course, there were all kinds of other delights packed into the show, including three achingly lovely tunes from the 2003 album World Without Tears (the show-opening title track, People Talkin' and Over Time), a wonderful vocal duet version with Pettibone of Jailhouse Tears packed with exquisitely profane humor, several unrecorded new songs highlighted by the country-fried Bitter Memory (with Pettibone tastefully working in licks from the Chuck Berry classic Memphis) and a sterling impromptu cover of the Tammy Wynette hit Apartment #9 that boasted the same stark emotive cast as Williams' own songs.

Joy was there, too, but it steered closer to the stripped-down strident version featured on the new West of Memphis soundtrack than the rockish Car Wheels original. While the intent was unchanged, this Joy stood as a boozy, bruised blast of defiance that sounded, as did all of this splendid performance, positively youthful.

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