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Could We Get Any Closer?

by Jim Lauderdale

SkyCrunch Records 8/18/2009

*GRAMMY NOMINATED: BEST BLUEGRASS ALBUM*

Jim Lauderdale is something of an enigma. He makes modern country music that comes disguised as bluegrass, but it has little in common with what used to be called “newgrass.” Newgrass bands like the Country Gentlemen, the Seldom Scene,, and the New Grass Revival expanded bluegrass’ boundaries by covering rock and pop tunes, or by dressing like hippies and adding drums and electric instruments to the mix. What Lauderdale does is fundamentally different: he adds complexity to the traditional bluegrass formula, infuses it with a decidedly honky tonk spirit, and thereby creates something new that neither condescends to bluegrass tradition nor waters down its essential elements. Consider “I Took a Liking to You,” the track that opens this album: over what sounds at first like a head-long, straight-up bluegrass backing, Lauderdale sings an almost laconic lyric in half time while banjo wizard Scott Vestal veers slyly from Earl Scruggs banjo clichés to flowery chromaticism and back again. The slow-burning Calico sounds something like a Ralph Stanley tribute, while “That’s Why I’m Here with You” is a lovely, lilting acoustic Western swing number. “Lead Me” is a gospel number with a slightly sardonic edge (“Are you up there laughing at my plans?”), while the title track is simply a breathtakingly perfect country song. Lauderdale is in the process of creating something entirely new using elements that are entirely traditional and familiar — it’s a thrilling process to watch, and it results in songs that are a joy to listen to. Rick Anderson, All Music Guide