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Jim Lauderdale

Carolina Moonrise: Bluegrass Songs by Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale – 2012 (Compass)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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CDs by Jim Lauderdale

"Carolina Moonrise" is the latest collaborative release from Americana music luminary Jim Lauderdale and master lyricist Robert Hunter. Not only does the all-star songwriting duo maintain its luster from previous efforts, the 13 contemporary bluegrass gems reveal that the partnership is improving with time.

There's something undeniable about the combination of Lauderdale's innate melodic ability and Hunter's quintessentially American imagery. The two go together like hand in glove, and there's no shortage of examples to prove this point.

Troublemaker reveals a seemingly rare moment of introspection for a blue collar bruiser who works hard and parties even harder. Hunter puts you inside that characters head with lines like: "Working on the highway/Working on the farm/All I've got to show for it is the muscle in my arm."

On the pretty weeper Happiness, Hunter presents his take on another great archetypal song character - the sad sack that didn't realize the love he had until it was gone. He makes it easy for the listener to understand this person's tortured mindset: "Happiness is loving you/As I found out what can I do/I can't face another dawn/Without your love I can't go on/I hope the same applies to you/And you'll come back when you feel blue."

There's nothing fancy about the lyrics in either of these two songs, no complex prose structure or veiled references that make the listener work get inside these characters' heads. But don't confuse simple with pedestrian. There's a real beauty in Hunter's straight-forward lyrical approach, one that is enhanced by Lauderdale's memorable melodies and the clean production work from Dobro virtuoso Randy Kohrs.

Another highlight equally showcasing both halves of this duo is The Night The Moon Fell Down. Lauderdale's tune is so gorgeous and catchy that you'll swear you've heard it before and his vocal delivery has just the right amount of twang to perfectly accompany the nicely meandering acoustic backdrop.

Meanwhile, Hunter's lyrics, which are memories of blossoming love, are both poignant and poetic. It's hard not to think of his classic work with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead when you hear: "Walking with my lady, Mandy/Across the midnight fields beneath the stars/Sipping cherry brandy sweet as candy/Sipping cherry brandy from a jar/ Chewing plug tobacco Bull's Eye/Staring up at Jupiter and Mars/Looking down on high from our own sky/Up among them old Kentucky stars/ The night the moon fell down/Tumbled to the ground/Left a hole up in the sky about ten feet around/There's nothing you can say/But shrug and walk away/As long as we got love it doesn't matter anyway."

Triple Crossroad Blues, one of the more hard-charging tunes, contains the refrain, "Get on board/Get on board/Get on board to the end of the line." If this outstanding duo has more music like the tunes found on "Carolina Moonrise" up its sleeve, there will be plenty of passengers willing to ride that train.