Jim Lauderdale is both a “songwriter’s songwriter,” who’s written/co-written many modern classics for iconic artists, as well as an intuitive sideman, who’s enhanced the music of a bevy of esteemed musicians. As a solo artist, since 1986 up until now, he’s created a body work spanning 29 albums of imaginative roots music, encompassing country, bluegrass, soul, R&B and rock, as well as helping pave the way for the current Americana movement.
A longtime ambassador of the Americana genre, Jim received the WagonMaster Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by George Strait, on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, as part of the 15th annual Americana Honors & Awards.
“I know him mostly as a songwriter; a really, really, really good hit songwriter, and I’ve been very fortunate to cut a lot of his songs over the years,” Strait said in his speech. “Like Porter Wagoner, Jim Lauderdale is a consummate entertainer, a sharp dressed man as well, a terrific songwriter and a great singer.”
Lauderdale has released at least one, and sometimes as many as three, records every years since 1998. He is the second most recorded writer in George Strait’s canon, as well as responsible for country hits for Patty Loveless, George Jones, Mark Chesnutt and the Dixie Chicks. He’s also recorded albums with Dr. Ralph Stanley, the North Mississippi Allstars, Donna the Buffalo, Elvis Presley’s band, Elvis Costello and Buddy Miller, as well as collections written whole albums with long time Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter. He’s the co-hosts a weekly radio show on SiriusXM with Buddy Miller, “The Buddy & Jim Show”. He is also co-host of Music City Roots, the weekly live and radio, podcast and PBS series.
June 30th Lauderdale released his 29th album, London Southern that was recorded in London at Goldtop studios and produced by Neil Brockbank and Robert Trehern. London Southern features co-writes with Dan Penn, Joan Oates, Odie Blackmon and Kendell Marvell alongside six Lauderdale solo compositions and a host of celebrated guest musicians.
Over the course of twenty-five years of writing, recording and touring, Gordon has built an impressively consistent catalog of songs, a critically-acclaimed stack of albums, and a reputation for dynamic live performances. His 2012 release, Gloryland, received significant critical praise and media attention: a front-page Arts section feature in The New York Times, an appearance on NPR’s “Here and Now”, and great reviews in Rolling Stone, USA Today, and others. Author Peter Guralnick said this about Gloryland:
“There’s nothing else around today quite like Kevin Gordon’s music. I’m a huge Kevin Gordon fan. Think of John Lee Hooker tied to the hard, imagistic poetry of William Carlos Williams, and you get a little bit of an idea. . . you just have to listen. And listen again. For the pure emotional pleasure of it. For the unmistakable, hard-driving passion of words and music, rocking together in rhythm.”
From The New York Times: “‘Gloryland’ [is] an often harrowing tour of the back-roads South with scenes of burning churches, a serio-comic brawl after a ZZ Top concert in Shreveport, La., and — most memorably — the time the Klan showed up when his seventh-grade marching band performed about 90 miles from there in Colfax.”
Gordon’s songs have been recorded by Keith Richards, Irma Thomas, Levon Helm, Hard Working Americans, and others. His duet with Lucinda Williams, “Down to the Well”, was featured on the Oxford American Southern Music Sampler.
There’s a bittersweet beauty to the passing of time — the changes it brings are just as often heartbreaking as they are heartwarming. The inevitable tension that arises from that sway is Gretchen Peters’ most trusted muse.
Whether a single sentence or a simple setting, once planted, even the tiniest seed can grow into a vision unto itself. Strung together and populated with strong and broken female heroines, those vignettes make up Dancing with the Beast and, indeed, Peters’ entire discography. “The pictures and the details come first, and I think that’s kind of necessary because they’re sort of like little bombs of emotion,” she says. “It’s like when you pull out a Polaroid that you haven’t seen in 25 years, and your heart just kind of explodes because it brings back a whole world.”
Dancing with the Beast puts female characters at the fore, from teenage girls to old women. And intentionally so. With the 2017 Women’s March and #MeToo Movement as bookends to her writing time, Peters knew that a feminist perspective would be the critical core of the record. “Those two events just put everything — as so many things in 2017 — in really stark relief,” she admits. “You can trace the feminist DNA in my songwriting back to ‘Independence Day’ and probably before. The thing that 2017 did is just put it front and center. It was very easy to kind of go to sleep for a while and just not think about that stuff because we were lulled into complacency for eight years.”
“I do remember feeling that I had to try to write something with hope in it,” she continues. “It’s not my strong suit. But I wanted that on this record, because I do think there’s hope. I do see hope around me. I see a lot of trouble, too, but we have to try to find some light. Those are hard songs for me to write, but this was my mom’s gift. She brought that to me.”
Beauty tempered by dread, sorrow buoyed by hope, these are the ever-present tugs of war that make life worth living and songs worth writing. And they are the over-riding themes that make Gretchen Peters one of her generation’s most compelling singer/songwriters.
It all starts with a low tremolo guitar, resonating and rumbling in a way that pulls at unspoken places. Deep in your core, you know without words, this is a song – indeed, an album – that’s about loss, desolation, realizing what life is made of and the fact that even you know it just keeps coming.
If Matraca Berg has made a name for herself, it’s been for the gorgeous honesty she brings to longing, desire, survival and sometimes even fighting back. Certainly, “If I Had Wings,” the smoldering opener of Berg’s The Dreaming Fields, finds its heroine grappling with the notion, “Mama said call the preacher, I just called the law/ We all knew sooner or later, it was gonna’ be him of me…”
“It wasn’t about me, obviously,” allows the Hall of Fame songwriter a tinge sadly. “But being from the South, working class deep Southern roots – between that and the work I’ve done with Magdalene House and the stories you hear there… It puts a whole other spin on what you know.
“There are really very few women that I don’t see a part of myself in, no matter what they do, what their station of life. We all as women share things; you tend to know each other, have recognition on a cellular level, which defies words. You don’t even have to talk about it, you just know… and that’s the glue that holds us together.”
Matraca Berg has served as a cartographer for the hills and valleys of women’s souls, doubts, loves and sorrows for her whole life. It is how she earned her first #1 at 18 and Grammy nomination at 22.