With some 30 plus albums to his credit, it would be easy to label Jim Lauderdale’s latest, When Carolina Comes Home Again, as simply the most recent in an ongoing series of efforts that have marked his overly ambitious three decade career. However, there is special significance involved with this particular outing. It is, more than anything else, a celebration of Lauderdale’s North Carolina origins, and his early — and enduring — love for bluegrass in all its seminal forms.
Indeed, that fondness is in full flourish throughout the new album. And yet, it isn’t merely a moot salute. Rather, it’s yet another example of Lauderdale’s remarkable songwriting prowess and his ability to turn a simple twist of a phrase, or some everyday scenario, into a song that immediately sounds like a standard, seemingly plucked from the ethos and delivered fully formed with ease and accessibility. From the soulful strut and banjo ramble of the title track, the robust resolve of Moonrider, and the supple swing and easy sway of You’ll Have To Earn It. In the unabashed exuberance of Cackalacky, and the knowing narrative shared in As a Sign (a song written with the late lyricist Robert Hunter), Lauderdale expresses a knowing sentiment with a profound pride that can only come from a true son of the South.
Then again, Lauderdale’s built a career on this sort of effusive outpour. His earliest efforts, particularly those procured with Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys, established his bluegrass basics and he’s kept up that tack throughout much of his career, courtesy of such albums as Lost in the Lonesome Pines (2002), Bluegrass (2006), Reason and Rhyme (2011) and Carolina Moonrise (2011). Moreover, Lauderdale’s expresses himself as a down-home poet and provocateur, a knowing musician who recognizes the wisdom that comes with living a life immersed with making music. There’s a symmetry that shines through, one that finds an ideal fit with traditional bluegrass as well as today’s populist precepts.
Although it fits a familiar formula through both effort and execution, When Carolina Comes Home Again is more than simply a welcome return. It is, by every measure imaginable, a modern classic that’s clearly destined to pass any sort of test of time.