Monday, July 3, 2017

Music Review: London Southern by Jim Lauderdale



Jim Lauderdale is the unsung hero of honky tonk music. For as long as I can remember, there's been an animosity between country music purists and the Nashville establishment about the quality and authenticity of mainstream country. Personally, I don't understand why these people are trying to hold Nashville accountable to something it was never responsible for, to begin with. The Carter Family was from Virginia. Hank Williams got famous in Texas. Bob Wills' career was highlighted in Tulsa and Hollywood. Johnny Cash began his career in Memphis. Do you see what I'm saying? Authentic country music veterans didn't begin their career or enjoy the benefits of it because of Music Row. Shut up, Wheeler Walker, Jr.!

I've come to realize, most of the time, when people challenge the modern definition of country music they're attempting to parallel what gets played on the radio with a brief era of the genre's history that took place in Bakersfield, California. The Fender Telecaster was the prominent guitar, often sharing lead duties with a fiddle as heard on the early recordings of Merle Haggard and the Don Rich era of Buck Owens & the Buckaroos. The music of this era still lives on today in honky tonks all over the world. Jim Lauderdale is an artist who has kept that tradition alive. When I was a kid my mom had George Strait's cd Blue Clear Sky which had a writer's contribution from Sir Lauderdale called, "Do The Right Thing." I knew his music before I was ever aware of him as a person.

London Southern is just another great chapter in an already impressive body of work. He kicks things off with a story about love in lingo called, "Sweet Time." It's a heartbreaker with some nice boogie piano to compound the feeling of the song. He wastes no time between upbeat songs and ballads as the next two songs take a slower approach. Things pick back up with, "You Came To Get Me," adding some variety to the albums with a horns section. This song could be an R&B hit or a good gospel number. He keeps the R&B flavor cooking with, "What Have You Got To Lose." "If I Can't Resist" has a surf rock feel.

Circling back to our earlier discussion about authentic honky tonk music, No Right Way To Be Wrong, is as "smoky beer joint" as it can possibly get. I could hear the Allman Brothers doing this song in a biker bar, or a cover band playing it in some off the beaten path bar out in the sticks. It's an incredible song upheld by both superb musicianship and top-shelf songwriting. In my opinion, this song could put an end to the argument I described earlier. If people would listen to Jim Lauderdale instead of arguing about Nashville the world would be a better place. As if that song wasn't good enough, he follows it up with a 50's pop sounding song called, "I Can't Do Without You," that brings the horns section back.

My goal with this review wasn't to pidgeon hole Jim Lauderdale as the savior of country music because I don't consider his music country. In my opinion, what makes him a honky tonk artist is his versatility and ability to write a ballad that can be played alongside an upbeat whiskey drinking song. I don't believe in categorizing with subgenres like Americana. Jim Lauderdale simply makes great music that can be applied to a wide variety of categories. My point with London Southern is if you're willing to look elsewhere you can find some great quality music that should be getting more attention than it's being given if you haven't already heard something he's written for someone else.

Bio Matthew Westmoreland (or Matty, as his friends call him) was born in South Carolina, grew up in Georgia, and rambled everywhere in between. Currently located in Mendocino, California with his wife and two sons, he spends his days writing songs and his evenings listening to & reviewing albums for Story & Grit before gigs. Look for his debut album in late 2017 and keep up with him in the meantime at facebook.com/westmorelandsounds

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