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Jim Lauderdale

Patchwork River – 2010 (Patchwork River)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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CDs by Jim Lauderdale

Lyricist Robert Hunter's prose is filled with characters, situations and locations that are uniquely and unmistakably American. Although he is best known for his long-term collaborative relationship with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, his work with noted singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale over the past decade, including this new album, proves that his writing skills are as sharp as ever.

Lauderdale, who co-wrote all 13 tracks with Hunter, moves further away than usual from his country tendencies on this set. And even though one of the strongest songs, the lovely steel guitar ballad Between Your Heart and Mine featuring supporting vocals from Patty Griffin, is a slice of classic country, the remainder of the album is a rootsy mélange of blues and soul.

The greasy southern blues shuffle of Jawbone sits nicely between the catchy title track and Good Together, a soulful tune with horns and gospel chorus that brings to mind Van Morrison's classic albums of the '70s.

With the right collaborator, Hunter's best lyrical moments take listeners on a journey to new places and that is certainly the case with his work with Lauderdale here. The singer's smooth and deep vocals on Louisville Roll flow like the Ohio River described in the song while Lauderdale's urgent musical arrangement on Alligator Alley perfectly matches the song's burning Everglades theme.

With the Grateful Dead, Hunter's lyrics became the centerpiece for classic albums like "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead" that successfully brought a country sound to rock. Now with Lauderdale, Hunter's lyrics have become an ideal conduit to bring a rock influence to an artist typically grounded in country music and the results are just as impressive.