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.
Elevated Vegetation is a sparser and more subtly adventurous outing, and it presents Johnson more or less within his jazz peer group, alongside the cornetist Kirk Knuffke and the drummer Ziv Ravitz. This is a crew attracted to roving abstraction but capable of tight focus and brisk concision. The album consists of nine tracks, the longest and least songlike of which is a tumbling abstraction of Money, Money, Money, the Abba tune.
The greater portion of the album features Johnson’s compositions, which tend toward simple and durable construction. Blue Willie, the opener, pairs a double-stop bass ostinato with a swashbuckling drum part, in emulation of John Coltrane’s classic rhythm team. Crackdown has cornet and bass doubling a swinging line while Ravitz suggests a soft-shoe with brushes on his snare. Many Celebrations and Kersey employ vamps beneath melodies that draw from Middle Eastern scales.
The trumpet, bass and drums trio is less of a rarity in jazz than it used to be though it’s still far from commonplace. Johnson and his partners can evoke contemporary parallels, like Triveni and the Linda Oh Trio. But the Johnson trio establishes its own momentum, largely by the particularity of its components: Knuffke’s pinpoint accuracy and mellow, centered tone; Ravitz’s way of urging his cymbals and toms astir; and Johnson’s grounded but unreserved presence at the center of it all.
LA MISMA GRAN SENORA
The Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera died on Dec 9 in a plane crash, two days before the release of her new compilation album La Misma Gran Senora. Obviously, the album was never intended as a valedictory.
Rivera, already a major hitmaker and television personality in the Spanish-speaking world, was very much on the rise; she was about to move into English-language film and network television. La Misma Gran Senora (The Same Great Lady) gathers songs from her albums over the last seven years and adds the title song, which was released as a single in October. And it makes abundantly clear why she was so beloved as a singer, symbol and spitfire. Outside her entertainment career, she was an advocate against domestic violence and for immigrant rights.
La Misma Gran Senora (Fonovisa) concentrates on the Mexican regional styles that Rivera chose to make her own. Nine of the album’s 13 songs are banda: Mexican songs, usually waltzes and polkas, backed by robust, oom-pahing brass bands. The arrangements, with trumpets cackling and clarinets fluttering above a droll sousaphone bass line, laugh their way through songs full of romance and heartbreak. Although Mexican pop singers, male and female, sometimes record with bandas or mariachi groups as genre projects, full-time banda was considered a man’s world until Rivera made it her core style. Over the last decade Rivera also recorded mariachi and pop – bringing in string sections or pedal steel guitar – but as La Misma Gran Senora makes clear, she never left banda behind.
With a clear, dramatic voice that could hurtle toward fury or tears, Rivera presented herself, as the title of a 2006 album puts it, as Parrandera, Rebelde y Atrevida: Party Girl, Rebel and Bold Girl. More than that: she was not to be crossed.
Nearly every song on La Misma Gran Senora is flung at a man who’s leaving or has left her. It’s the emotional territory that has paid off for Adele, Pink, Taylor Swift, Alanis Morissette and Gloria Gaynor: anger overpowering heartache. And Rivera pitched her vengeance to grown-ups.
The title track – which was released within weeks after Rivera announced the filing of her divorce from the baseball player Esteban Loaiza – taunts the singer’s ex by insisting, “I’ll go on being the great woman/You without me are worth nothing from now on.” It’s a follow-up to the title song of a 2009 album, La Gran Senora, a mariachi waltz that’s also included on this collection. La Gran Senora warned a younger rival that stealing her man would take more than “a pretty face” and “a body without stretch marks.”
Rivera goes from sobs to wrath in Resulta, advising the man to take his suitcase and go; in No Vas a Creer (You Won’t Believe), she gloats to a man that she’s already over him. And in Que Me Vas a Dar (What Will You Give Me), she drips sarcasm as she negotiates the terms of a potential reconciliation.
Men weren’t her only targets. The album ends with Ovarios (Ovaries), an accordion-driven corrido from 2009 with a hip-hop attitude; it boasts about her fame and directly taunts, by nickname, her rivals among female singers. But that was a side trip. Rivera earned her fame as a woman determined to fight for her passions.