Three decades into his career Jim Lauderdale has achieved, with London Southern, a long cherished ambition to record an album in London. The temptation to do so was driven by excellent motives – he could record at old friend Nick Lowe’s studio and could also avail himself of Nick’s band. The result is a richly toned traditional country album the opener of which – Sweet Time – will have the listener scurrying for the sleeve notes. Is this an unfamiliar Hank Williams song ? No, it’s one of a half dozen Jim Lauderdale originals (the remainder of the songs are co-writes with the likes of Dan Penn) but it perfectly captures that gently swinging sly-voiced honky-tonking spirit with slick phrasing like : “I told you I’d wait forever / I didn’t know it would take so long / that we could be together”. By contrast I love you more is a heartfelt outpouring of honesty “I love you more than I let on” hits the heartstrings hard, and Lauderdale’s vocal is full of passionate longing. This time though it’s a slow country ballad flecked with jazz guitar and crooner’s strings. Gorgeous is the word.
The co-writes with the aforementioned Dan Penn unsurprisingly bring in some Southern Soul with What have you got to lose featuring gospel backing vocals from the Mccrary sisters whilst I can’t do without you relies on a horn section to punctuate a plea for just one more chance “I can’t imagine me going on without your loving / It’s be a tragedy for me to let you go and us be nothing”. It’s subtly funky, with a great groove and Lauderdale’s bluesy singing at times sounding a little like Van Morrison.
It’s not any great originality that makes London Southern an excellent album – it’s the carefully placed, uncluttered and punchy to the point songs. None out stay their welcome and none feel too short – and it is this that makes London Southern such a listening pleasure. Passionate singing coupled with a class band and impeccable guests are always the secret of the success.
Jim Lauderdale’s new album is a perfect example of great, honest, country songwriting performed wonderfully with enough musical variety to sustain the interest. Quietly cool.