Jim Lauderdale’s newest record is also his oldest. Like a treasure unearthed from a time capsule, it’s a perfectly preserved artifact from a particular point in time, in this case 1979.
The short history of the Yep Roc CD, Jim Lauderdale and Roland White, is that the two recorded the tracks 39 years ago, but it was never released and then lost until recently. (The longer version of the story can be found here.)
There is a slightly dated feel to many of the 12 tracks here, but that’s part of the charm. Lauderdale, who has had widespread success as a bluegrass and Americana writer and performer, was in his formative years. And White, while already a big draw, was still somewhat in the shadow of his late brother, Clarence, who died tragically just six years earlier.
At the time, brother duos were still popular and widely copied in bluegrass and country – Bobby and Sonny Osborne, Charlie and Ira Louvin, the Delmore Brothers – and folk rock music wasn’t long removed from a turn toward country, fueled in large part by Clarence White, Gram Parsons, and the band they were both part of, The Byrds.
Those influences, diluted now but still key ingredients in many newer projects, are prominent here. From Lauderdale’s Forgive and Forget, which opens the CD, to Alton Delmore’s Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar and his Nashville Blues, the final cuts, Lauderdale and White pay homage to what at the time was a more recent past, with close harmonies, call and response vocals, and clean picking that stays close to the contours of the melody.
Also here: A couple of nods to contemporary folk music that threatened to overtake bluegrass in the 1960s until, in part, it was embraced by the Country Gentlemen and a bit later, the Seldom Scene. Gordon Lightfoot’s That’s What You Get For Loving Me and Donovan Leitch’s Try and Catch the Wind grass up quite nicely in these arrangements.
From my subjective perch, the best songs on the CD are the opening trio – Forgive and Forget, Gold and Silver and Wall Around Your Heart, which is inexplicably listed here as (Stone Must Be The) Walls Built Around Your Heart. They echo Parsons’ vocals and Clarence White’s guitar stylings (by a then-young and unheralded Marty Stuart).
This is bluegrass at its unpolished and unpretentious best. That’s not a put down by any means. A diamond in the rough is still a gem. Indeed, this charming collection stands as a reminder of an era when music wasn’t polished within an inch of its life in the studio, and when breaks didn’t sound as though some of the pickers are being paid by the note.
No one can be happier than Lauderdale and White that the sessions from Earl Scruggs’ basement (engineered by his son, Steve Scruggs) turned up nearly four decades after they were recorded. But it should please many of the rest of us as well.
Call it serendipity. Call it a missed opportunity – who knows what might have happened if this record came out as planned 39 years ago?
Or you can call it what I do: Good music.