Jim Lauderdale has always followed his muse wherever it moseyed. In recent years he’s collaborated with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and rootsy jam-band favorites Donna the Buffalo. This latest disc, a songwriting collaboration with Robert Hunter, should presumably fall somewhere in between. But despite the psychedelic baggage Robert Hunter’s association with the Grateful Dead carries, his songwriting has always been grounded in country and roots motifs (see American Beauty’s “Ripple,” “Brokedown Palace” and “Box of Rain”). So instead of creating twanging Head music, Lauderdale and Hunter have created a hickory-smoked batch of tunes that proves one of the best traditional releases of the year. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Lauderdale is one of the strongest singer/songwriters out there, investing all the considerable charms of his high, lonesome baritone behind the tunes. And he’s ably backed by some excellent bluegrass and country players, including Tim O’Brien, Bryan Sutton and Bucky Baxter. Headed For The Hills is a remarkable effort that finds striking originality in exploring some of the oldest strains of American music.
Tim Sheridan, Paste Magazine