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Country songwriters take the spotlight with new albums

August 12, 2014

A couple of country songwriter stalwarts in Jim Lauderdale and Billy Joe Shaver are in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. Each has a new album just out and both records, if you dig a good country song, are worth your listening dollar. Let’s take a look.

Jim Lauderdale
“I’m a Song”
Sky Crunch Records

Whereas he has been making records out of his Nashville base of operations since 1992, the singer and songwriter Jim Lauderdale may best be known for his radio show on the Sirius XM Outlaw Country channel. Along with fellow Americana artist Buddy Miller, Lauderdale co-hosts the “Buddy & Jim” radio show heard coast to coast on that satellite outlet. Together, they mix Americana and country music with interviews with greats from those music worlds. Lauderdale’s primary calling card, however, is his own recording career. Arriving on the scene at the tail end of the “New Traditionalist” movement that yielded the likes of Randy Travis, Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam, Lauderdale made his debut in 1991 with the album Planet of Love. Produced by a couple of other forward-looking country cats in Rodney Crowell and John Leventhal, the record mixed hard country with some outside-the-box sounds and was a showcase for Lauderdale’s gift for writing a lasting lyric to go with his terrific voice. It began a career which has yielded over 25 albums including collaborations with the likes of Ralph Stanley, Robert Hunter, Donna the Buffalo, and his Sirius XM mate Miller. Lauderdale’s latest album is a return to the traditional country sound in the spirit of past releases like “Country Super Hits” and “Honey Songs.” “I’m a Song” is a meaty collection featuring 20 original songs, a few of which are reworkings of past classic country Lauderdale songs including his channeling of the spirit of George Jones and Gram Parsons in the song “King of Broken Hearts” from that “Planet of Love” album debut, and the oft-covered “Doin’ Time in Bakersfield”. The traditional country flavor is buoyed by an all-star collection of Nashville pickers that includes guitarist James Burton, steel player Al Perkins, bassist Dennis Crouch, guitar slinger Kenny Vaughn, and fiddle man Stuart Duncan. Lauderdale ups the country ante even more via the guest stars on the singing side including Patty Loveless and Lee Ann Womack. To add icing to the country cake, half of the album was recorded at the legendary RCA Studio A in Nashville. Still in fine voice some 20-plus years after his debut, on “I’m a Song” the ever consistent Lauderdale demonstrates the ability to pen winning songs in the country style. Through and through, “I’m a Song” is the complete package.

Jim Lauderdale has two upcoming appearances in Rhode Island. On Saturday, Aug. 30 he’ll appear at the Rhythm & Roots Festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown. The following day he will appear as part of the Rose Island Lighthouse Music Festival.

Billy Joe Shaver
“Long in the Tooth”
Lightning Rod Records

Approaching 75 years of age and still kicking out his sturdy brand of outlaw country, Billy Joe Shaver still looks like he can kick butt with the best of the rustlers out there. His career got a serious jumpstart thanks to Waylon Jennings. The year was 1973 and the album Jennings’ “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Shaver’s contribution? Writing or co-writing nine of the album’s 10 tracks including such classics as the title track, “Old Five & Dimers (Like Me),” and “Ride Me Down Easy.” To many, it was their first taste of the songwriting talent of Shaver. He’d go on to make many a great record in the years since. “Long in the Tooth” is Shaver’s latest and he proves himself anything but over the hill. His first studio album in six years, the record is filled with the sort of hard-drivin’ country music that has been his trademark. Appropriately, the album kicks off with Shaver and fellow outlaw Willie Nelson trading verses on a twangy slice of pure country called “Hard to be an Outlaw.” Featuring guest appearances by the aforementioned Nelson, Tony Joe White, Leon Russell and long-time Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael, “Long in the Tooth” offers plenty of looks from the sonic eeriness of the title track to the bluegrass-flavored “Sunbeam Special” to the beautiful love song “I’ll Love You as Much as I Can” to “America Me” with its South-of-the-border backdrop. Put simply, there’s no slowing down Billy Joe Shaver. Here’s hoping there’s more in him like “Long in the Tooth” in the years to come. Visit

A busy weekend at Chan’s Restaurant in Woonsocket (267 Main St.). Rhode Island legends Roomful of Blues hold court on Friday night at the home of eggrolls and blues for two shows at 8 and 10 p.m. The following evening, The Diane Blue Big Band raises the roof with their blues, R&B and soul sounds. Blue is one of the few woman harp players out there and she can blow it with tornado force.
On Saturday evening, but down at the other end of the state in Westerly at The Knickerbocker Café (35 Railroad Ave.), it’s a CD release party for The Knickerbocker All-Stars who feature a who’s who of talent including Ricky “King” Russell, Malford Milligan, Sugar Ray Norcia, Fran Christina, Curtis Salgado, Johnny Nicholas, Al Copley, and more. Show time is 8 p.m.
The Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Road, Matunuck) presents reggae-and-then-some band Roots of Creation on Friday night. Foxtrot Zulu returns to The Mist stage on Saturday night to deliver their groove-filled sounds. Boston-based piano rockers Richard James & the Name Changers close out the weekend menu on Sunday.

Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.


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