Jim Lauderdale’s Black Roses and Blue Moon Junction respectively showcase the songwriter’s raucous and reflective sides. The Nashville-based songwriter, who shares all writing credits on both collections with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, returned to their deep catalog for the material.
“You know, I just thought, I have these other songs that Robert and I had written and hadn’t recorded, so let’s try those,” he explains to CMT Edge.
The wildly diverse Black Roses features North Mississippi Allstars’ Cody and Luther Dickinson, whom Lauderdale bonded with in Nashville at the Americana Music Festival a few years ago, as well as soulful Muscle Shoals musicians Spooner Oldham and David Hood. Meanwhile, Blue Moon Junction spotlights the songwriter behind the singer as Lauderdale performs solo and acoustic.
The excellent new albums follow a 2013 Grammy nomination for Buddy and Jim, the duets record with Buddy Miller that will compete for best Americana album this month.
“I think that we both feel like the Grammy will go to someone else, but we’re glad to be in that company,” says Lauderdale, a two-time Grammy winner in the bluegrass album category. “We were just happy to record together, and we’d be happy for whoever gets it because we feel they’re all great artists.”
CMT Edge: Describe the recording process for Black Roses.
Lauderdale: As will happen with me, I wasn’t really sure what I’d do until right before I’m in the studio. Sometimes I feel I work the best under tremendous pressure. That’s when songs really come together or I’ll finish songs. The first couple of things we recorded, it was just Luther and Cody and we recorded what became the first two songs on Black Roses, “Throw My Bucket Down” and “No Later Than Soon.”
You cut the album at the Zebra Ranch in Mississippi, right?
Yeah. It’s a great studio. Luther and Cody’s dad Jim Dickinson was larger than life, a really wonderful producer and musician. The place is out in the country, and they have it now and it’s just got a really creative atmosphere. As we would say, it’s got great mojo in it, and Luther and Cody work so well together. When you have guys like that, it really makes it flow.
What did Luther bring into the equation?
Aw, man, he just has such a great vibe and attitude. His guitar playing is so perfect, and he really makes everybody feel good. Luther has really great instincts as a producer. As far as things go, that record went really quickly.
Describe your writing process with Robert Hunter.
Robert and I work really fast. I give him the melodies and he gives me the lyrics. Robert and I started writing when I was getting ready to do my first bluegrass collaboration with Ralph Stanley. I was able to contact Robert, and I knew he and Jerry Garcia had been big bluegrass and Ralph Stanley fans. That was in 1997, and that began our collaboration. During the process for Blue Moon Junction, I sent Robert some more melodies and he sent me more lyrics. I’d always wanted to do a solo acoustic album.
Well, it was different for me. I wanted to mix it up. I like to do records in cycles. The thing I’m working on right now that I’m going to try to finish this weekend is more of a country record. I have [famed guitarists] James Burton and Al Perkins, and we recorded a bunch of it. As far as the solo acoustic record, I have done different kinds of records, but I really enjoy playing solo. I thought it would be nice to have a representation of that. And also any chance I can record some things I’ve written with Robert Hunter, I do.
Did you consciously self-produce Blue Moon Junction?
Yeah, it was a conscious decision. I’d been talking to [engineer] David Ferguson about working together for several years and threw that idea out. I’d been singing some harmony on a tribute album to Cowboy Jack Clement, and he said, “Why don’t you come over to the studio?” I thought, “That’d be perfect.” I’d thrown the idea out to Buddy to produce, but he was too busy.
By the way, congratulations on the Grammy nomination.
Thanks. Thank you so much. Oh, that little thing? I forgot about that. Oh, I’m kidding. We’re very happy about that.
What about more records with Buddy?
Yeah, we’re gonna do a follow-up. I’m recording right now, and he’s been really busy as the producer for the music on that TV show Nashville, but you never know. We finally did that Buddy and Jim album and did it on fairly short notice. We’d been talking about it for so many years, and then New West Records said, “Yeah, go ahead and do it,” and we got it together quickly. That could happen for the next one, too.