Artist: Jim Lauderdale
Album: Soul Searching: Vol. 1 Memphis/Vol. 2. Nashville
Label: Sky Crunch
Release Date: 09/25/2015
Two-time Grammy-winning singer and master songwriter Jim Lauderdale dropped his customary country and bluegrass sides to shows his innovative chops with either a double album or two very different single albums, depending…. You can buy them individually, or buy them as a set. It’s a novel idea that works, and though the two halves don’t strictly match, Soul Searching is perfectly titled, as one might expect from this seasoned wordsmith.
Soul Searching’s Volume 1, Memphis, is all about soul music. Trading in banjo for a string section and mandolin for horns, country and Americana pillar Lauderdale visited Memphis to record at the legendary Royal Studios, where the sound in the former movie theater remains legendary. Al Green alone sold 20 million records that were recorded there. (Coincidentally, the historic Royal Studios is located at 1320 Willie Mitchell Blvd., recently re-named from 1320 South Lauderdale St.)
Jim Lauderdale, nothing if not authentic, didn’t just use the Royal hardware, he enlisted studio head Boo Mitchell to record and (with Lauderdale and Luther Dickinson) co-produce, and brought on Memphis musicians Charles and Leroy Hodges and Alvin Youngblood Hart, among others, to keep the Memphis soul sound on track. Lauderdale wrote or co-wrote all the songs, one co-written with North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson who, with his brother Cody, also played on both albums. One studio, many hats.
He didn’t completely lose his country twang or yodel, but Lauderdale uses his vocals to soulful effect, particularly on “There’s a Storm Out There (But It’s Calm in Here),” “Soul Searching” and “It Was Worth the Wait,” without trying to be a neo-Soul Man on what is primarily an album of love songs.
Volume 2, Nashville, recorded in his hometown of Nashville, cuts back to more familiar ground musically: the McCrary Sisters sing backing vocals and Lillie Mae Rische plays fiddle, not violin. The soul searching here is of the metaphysical type, as on “Why Does God Let That Happen” (self-explanatory), “Water Water Please Come Back” about treating Mother Earth more kindly, or “Signals From Space,” an eerie head trip which I’d bet money was inspired by Lauderdale’s recent collaboration with Robert Hunter, who wrote many of the Grateful Dead’s best songs.
One of my personal favorites on the Nashville CD, “Timing Is Everything,” has an infectious, jazzy bent that had me movin’ ‘n groovin’ and stuck in my head in a good way, with intelligent lyrics urging us to make wise choices going forward.
Volumes 1 and 2 really do come from different places, and the option to buy them as a set or individually is interesting. Buy one, buy the other, or buy ’em both: I’m thinking both.
– Suzanne Cadgène