After seeing him host and judge the Americana and the Independent Music Awards respectively, be an Honorary Chairperson for the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest each April at MerleFest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, co-hosting – along with Buddy Miller – “The Buddy & Jim Show” on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country channel, and hosting his own eponymously-named show on WSM Radio, it would be easy to forget that Jim Lauderdale has actually recorded 29 albums throughout his career, in addition to writing songs for George Strait, Blake Shelton, Elvis Costello, the Dixie Chicks, and Vince Gill, among others.
Now, Lauderdale’s 30th album, ‘Time Flies,’ finds the two-time Grammy winner once again blurring the lines of country, western swing, jazz, and soul. Produced by Lauderdale with Jay Weaver, ‘Time Flies’ kicks off with the title track, a soulful, flatland-invoking country ballad tailor-made for George Strait to come out of retirement with and take to the top of the charts.
‘The Road Is a River’ gallops along with a four-on-the-floor disco tempo while ‘Slow as Molasses’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a children’s album, yet it succeeds because it’s playfully charming without being cloying.
Western swing lays the foundation of both the fun ‘Wild on Me Fast’ and the big misfire on the album, ‘While You’re Hoping,’ while commendable as being the most adventurous of the lot, ends up sounding forced.
Highlights on ‘Time Flies’ include ‘When I Held the Cards’ – an ode to the power of youth and the sting of regret – and the Mose Allison-inspired hep-cat jazz of ‘Wearing Out Your Cool’ with a sax riff and groove that would make Van Morrison smile.
‘Time Flies’ closes with the most traditional country song on the album, ‘If the World’s Still Here Tomorrow’ (“I’ll still be loving you,” Lauderdale sings), which due to today’s current political climate in America, means the sentiment carries added gravitas.
Seemingly doubling down on the ‘Time Flies’ theme, Lauderdale is simultaneously releasing ‘Jim Lauderdale and Roland White,’ a newly rediscovered recording from 1979 created in Earl Scruggs’s basement with the former Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt sideman and mandolin wizard. Lauderdale contributes the high lonesome harmonies to White’s lead. Their voices meld together well, and the songs are pleasant, though you won’t find anything groundbreaking here. It’s mainly a historical piece for completists of both artists.
These two releases bookend a career that’s seen its share of success and frustration. Jim Lauderdale may never have become an A-lister, yet his songs have helped others attain and maintain that status. He’s also lauded as an architect and an ambassador of Americana, both as an artist and behind the scenes. One would be lucky to look back over 40 years at their career and see such accomplishments.
Tempus fugit indeed.