BUDDY AND JIM’
Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale
Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale are longtime pals and longtime pros, songwriters who have collaborated far and wide in the realm of handmade, twangy, tradition-conscious country and roots-rock: Nashville’s Americana wing. Miller, 60, is a first-rank guitarist and a producer for singers including Emmylou Harris and Robert Plant. Lauderdale, 55, is primarily a singer and songwriter who has written hits for George Strait and the Dixie Chicks and made albums with the venerable Ralph Stanley and the Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Lauderdale is the longtime host for the Americana Music Awards, where Miller leads the house band. They host an “outlaw country” satellite radio program, The Buddy and Jim Show, and finally got around to making a duet album, Buddy and Jim.
They took the duet mandate seriously. Buddy and Jim puts two-part harmony singing at its core; through the album, in verses and choruses, Miller and Lauderdale rarely sing alone. Looking back to the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers, as well as to Sam and Dave, they share close-harmony, near-parallel lines that dovetail the grain in their voices. It’s a genial male-bonding album, conscious of history but also relaxed; it’s far less metaphysical than the albums Miller makes with his wife, Julie Miller. She wrote two songs with the duo and lent them one of her own: the album’s standout, It Hurts Me, an old-fashioned country waltz about love gone cold.
What do two honky-tonk-loving compadres sing about together? Women, of course: loving them, losing them, missing them and, well, enduring through the centuries with a Vampire Girl, a rockabilly rumba written by Lauderdale.
Their own songs bring an easy flair to familiar forms. “They say that nothing lasts forever, honey, I’ve got news/Whoever said that never got the blues from you,” they sing in Forever and a Day, a weeper topped by fiddle and pedal steel guitar that was written by Lauderdale and Frank Dycus. They also pick up vintage songs from the Mississippi Sheiks, Flatt & Scruggs and Joe Tex, whose I Want to Do Everything for You slips some banjo plinking into the soul vamp.
The songs casually traverse the South from Nashville and Memphis to New Orleans (with the Johnnie and Jack song South in New Orleans), as Miller’s production tucks in his sly guitar licks and adds a vintage glaze. Clocking in at 34 1/2 minutes, Buddy and Jim doesn’t present itself as some grand statement. But the focus on harmony singing makes it more than a random crossing of career paths. Miller and Lauderdale gave themselves a professional assignment that they could handle, as pals, with aplomb.
Max Johnson Trio
The deep, rattling sound that Max Johnson elicits from an upright bass is more than a calling card on Elevated Vegetation, the compact but expressive new album by his working trio. It also serves as a center of gravity, stout and intense, with an almost palpable physical presence. But a calling card may be the natural first response, given that Johnson is in his early 20s and still establishing his foothold as an individualist and an artist as opposed to an adaptable sideman.
This is Johnson’s second album, and it comes just months after his first, Quartet, which was released on the Polish label NotTwo Records. That debut proposed an experimental and intergenerational outing. It features the saxophonist Mark Whitecage, the trombonist Steve Swell and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey, searching improvisers with more than 40 years of age disparity among them. One track bears a dedication to Henry Grimes, the free-jazz bassist with whom Johnson has recently apprenticed.