Jim Lauderdale w/special guest Lillie Mae
The Historic Grants Lounge at Grant's Lounge
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Jim Lauderdale has never been content to sit still in any onemusical place for long, effortlessly cycling through a wide range of country,rock, and bluegrass shades of Americana. But “Hope,” album number 34 in the two-time GRAMMY® award-winning singer-songwriter’s distinguished career, neverthelessstands out stylistically as well as thematically. After a year of locked-downisolation, “Hope” finds Lauderdale breaking out with wide-open arrangementsalong the lines of Neil Young, The Grateful Dead and Little Feat.
As to messaging, “Hope” is a joyous musical tribute to thespirit of overcoming hard times in a spirit of inspirational healing. And thevery first song sets the tone, “The Opportunity To Help Somebody Through It.”With a message of helping your fellow man get through trying times, it brings amessage of hard-won optimism.
“I wanted to get a musical message out there during this time ofwhat we’ve all been going through, about the hope for better days ahead withoutseeming sanctimonious or preachy,” Lauderdale says. “What I wanted to achievewas music to somehow help us all get through trying times and give comfort. Thepast year has been so difficult for everybody. If we can find any glimmers ofhope, that really helps get you through another day.”
Courage, hope and perseverance are recurrent themes throughoutthe album, from the tribute to frontline healthcare workers “Brave One” to“Don’t You Dream Anymore?,” a song urging listeners to be brave enough to wantmore. But it’s not all heaviness. “Here’s To Hoping” evokes the light at theend of the tunnel, and “Joyful Noise” closes the album with exactly that.
“Sounds we make and hearare joyful,” Lauderdale says. “Music and laughter, talking and singing, soundsof nature. There’s a joyfulness to it that helps make life seem right.”
“Hope” was co-produced by Lauderdale with his long-timecollaborator Jay Weaver, who played a similar role on 2019’s “From AnotherWorld” and 2018’s “Time Flies.” Along with the usual A-list support cast(including guitarists Chris Scruggs and Kenny Vaughan, plus sibling harmoniesfrom Lillie Mae and Frank Rische), “Hope” features collaborations withengineering students in the Blackbird Academy teaching academy at Nashville’sfabled Blackbird Studios.
“That was a learning experience for me, too,” Lauderdale says.“Really inspiring to be in there working with people learning the process.”
The material on “Hope” started to coalesce during Lauderdale’srecording sessions with more straight-ahead country songs. But that process wasupended when the shutdown kicked in during the spring of 2020.
“That was such a hard, weird time for everyone,” Lauderdalesays. “It was so difficult to watch all this tragedy unfolding with so manylives affected, and the people we were losing. As that spring went on, I wassearching for something meaningful and realized I had this bunch of songs thatdidn’t quite fit those country albums I’d been working on. They seemed to kindof speak to these times we were going through.”
Also notable is “Memory,” one of the last songs Lauderdaleco-wrote with one of his heroes, the late Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.They had a long and fruitful co-writing relationship, and Lauderdale was ableto complete “Memory” in time for Hunter to hear it before he passed inSeptember 2019. “Hope” also features an album-cover painting by Maureen Hunter,Robert’s widow.
Once Lauderdale was attuned to that wavelength, inspirationbegan to strike, and he wrote and recorded more songs in a similar vein. Anemail exchange with writer Holly Gleason yielded up the kernel of “It’s AlmostMore Than All The Joy,” based on her description of the overwhelming sense ofloss sweeping the planet in 2020. And the ode to simple pleasures “MushroomsAre Growing After the Rain” came to Lauderdale while he was out walking,written so quickly that he had the melody recorded on his phone by the time hegot home.
Musically, “Hope” has a few changeups like the late-night salonfeel of “When Searching For Answers.” Thoughtful and meditative, the prayerfulinvocation “Breathe Real Slow” is steeped in Lauderdale’s training in qigong (aform of tai chi). And the cascading guitar riff of “We Fade In We Fade Out”might be the closest Lauderdale has ever come to arena-rock.
“That was one where I gottogether with my co-writer and friend Odie Blackmon,” he says. “We never knowwhat will come out, a country thing or a soul thing or what. That’s differentfrom anything we’ve written together before. All part of the theme. I wantedthis album to have the feeling of community and connection, of people playingtogether and creating a feeling of joy. Having this music to work on helped getme through the despair and isolation of the last year, a thread of hope andoptimism to hold on to. And now I want to share it with you all out there.”