Today one of Americana's most revered and prolific songwriters and singers, Jim Lauderdale's path toward Nashville success was fairly tortuous.
While pursuing publishing deals and songwriting gigs, Lauderdale recorded at least two unreleased albums with those finding release beset by label uncertainty; from 1991-2001, he rarely recorded for the same label twice. He is now regarded as a songwriter's songwriter and, along with Lucinda Williams, Alejandro Escovedo and Buddy Miller, an artist around which the Americana designation developed.
In 1979 and fresh from North Carolina, Lauderdale found himself taken under Roland White's (The Kentucky Colonels, Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, Country Gazette) wing to make his initial recording foray at Earl Scruggs' Nashville basement studio. Working with bluegrass stalwarts in addition to White (mandolin and guitar) - Johnny Warren (fiddle), Terry Smith (bass) and Stan Brown (banjo) - as well as Gene Wooten (Dobro) and Marty Stuart (lead guitar) didn't help Lauderdale sell the album to any of the bluegrass labels, and the tapes were boxed for almost 40 years.
Recently rediscovered in White's basement, these 12 songs - featuring only two Lauderdale originals - reveal a path the 22-year old Lauderdale might have taken had he received initial acceptance. While there is nothing necessarily groundbreaking on display, the album is an intriguing slice of bluegrass featuring White singing in duet with Lauderdale on several songs including "February Snow" and Donovan's "Catch the Wind." White takes the lead on "I Might Take You Back Again," a song from Kentucky Colonel bandmate LeRoy Mack.
Familiar songs such as "Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar," Clyde Moody's "Six White Horses" and the Louvins' "Don't Laugh" are also revisited while a lively picked "Nashville Blues" closes the set. The finest performance is a seemingly tentative rendition of "Wall Around Your Heart;" Lauderdale's vulnerability is on full display on this Reno & Smiley classic.
The Lauderdale originals - "Forgive and Forget" and "Regrets and Mistakes" - provide evidence that Lauderdale was writing quality songs from the start; structurally uncomplicated, these comfortably fit beside songs from Alton Delmore, Gordon Lightfoot and Shel Silverstein.
Well-executed, "Jim Lauderdale & Roland White" is an unexpected bluegrass pleasure.