Has Jim Lauderdale ever made a bad record? Not yet. His latest marks a return to the unalloyed, hard country that he last essayed on 1997's "Whisper," and while it may not be the equal of that masterpiece, it comes pretty damn close. Fiddle, slip-note piano,and above all, pedal steel fill shuffles, smoldering ballads, and even a contribution to the trucker song canon, and frame Lauderdale's own constants - his soulful, passionate singing and his brilliantly idiosyncratic songs.
As on that honky-tonk predecessor, Lauderdale once again taps some of Nashville's finest for songwriting collaborations, including Harlan Howard, Kostas, the ageless Melba Montgomery, up-and-comer Leslie Satcher and longtime co-writing partner Frank Dycus; in fact, he penned only one of the album's tunes on his own. But as ever, they still zig when you expect them to zag, still turn left when you're thinking straight ahead, in short, they still sound unmistakably Lauderdalean. There isn't a weak song on this record, and a few of 'em-"Merle World and "Honky Tonk Haze" are obvious candidates-should join the roster of Lauderdale classics that began with "King of Broken Hearts" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends."