That Jim Lauderdale is not more well-known is an enigma. To the mainstream Nashville community, he’s an accomplished songwriter, having written big radio hits for the likes of George Strait, Mark Chesnutt and Patty Loveless. As a performer, however, that same community considers him left of center, a dubious distinction for someone who has more in common with George Jones than Ryan Adams.
The fact that Whisper, his debut for BNA, is on Lauderdale’s third Nashville label this decade (following Reprise and Atlantic) is more a statement about the sonic nature of his records somehow disagreeing with country radio than with his obvious talents. How many other Nashville artists would include both, N’Dea Davenport of the Brand New Heavies and Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys on their records?
Here, though, Lauderdale sets out to make a straight and true hard country record. He teams up with some of country music’s most distinguished writers — Harlan Howard, Melba Montgomery, John Scott Sherrill, Frank Dycus, and his old friend and former bandmate Buddy Miller — for a set that hits more often than it misses.
Howard’s distinctive melodic stamp is all over the ironically titled set opener, “Goodbye Song”. “Take Me Down A Path” has a big beat and a sawing fiddle that lends it a Cajun air, and there’s also a nod to Waylon Jennings’ dark and thunderous side on “Without You Here It’s Not The Same”.
The set wraps up with Stanley and his Boys lending their talents to the traveling song “I Will Lead You Home”. It has a more traditional sound than anything that preceded it, but it’s a perfect way to show that in the end, Lauderdale’s heart is in the right place.