Reason & Rhyme
[Sugar Hill (2011)]
The superficially unlikely writing partnership of Nashville singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter continues to bear fruit on the bluegrass album Reason & Rhyme, the third CD length project penned by the duo since they began collaborating in 1999 (for a Lauderdale/Ralph Stanley album). In contrast to the last Lauderdale/Hunter collaboration, the electric Patchwork River, Reason & Rhyme reverts to the bluegrass format the pair explored in their first full album together, the 2004 release Head for the Hills. Lauderdale is accompanied by a small ensemble of Nashville acoustic music pros, including banjo player Scott Vestal, mandolin vet Mike Compton, fiddler Tim Crouch, and resonator guitarist and co-producer Randy Kohrs.
Those looking for the kind of cosmic homilies that Hunter penned with Jerry Garcia will find both the melodies and lyrics more straightforward here, but Lauderdale does an admirable job of wrapping melodies around Hunter’ s lyrics on pieces like the minor-key ballad “Not Let You Go” and the lazy shuffle “Jack Dempsey’ s Crown.” With a couple of exceptions, notably the fast paced “Fields of the Lord,” Lauderdale’s voice sounds a bit too George Jones to fit the traditional bluegrass mold, but it works just fine for the pair’s songs. The most successful collaborations here fall in the traditional 1960s country mold, such as the high-energy “Tiger and The Monkey,” which sounds like it could have come out of the Buck Owens catalogue, and the soaring tune that gives the disc its title. Lauderdale and Hunter clearly enjoy working together, and Reason & Rhyme is probably their richest and most successful collaboration to date.
—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)