Jim Lauderdale

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Hope Review

by Mark Deming

Hard times make it hard to be optimistic, which is why it's important for those with the strength to look to the bright side to help us all with the burden. Jim Lauderdale doesn't quite sound like a cheerleader on 2021's Hope, written at a time when optimism was in short supply around the world. However, the album's subtle yet clear theme from the title on down is finding encouragement and stability when the world around you is in chaos. The album's tone isn't that of a pep talk, but a discussion of philosophy, exploring the ideas that bring us serenity and healing rather than getting stuck in a cycle of despair. Hope features the song "Memory," which was one of the last tunes Lauderdale wrote in collaboration with Robert Hunter, best known as one of the Grateful Dead's most reliable lyricists, and the hippie-like Zen of Hunter's worldview is audible throughout the album. The music may not sound psychedelic, but the arrangements summon a sunny, laid-back vibe that's ideal for the gentle contemplation these tunes encourage. The pedal steel swells that sweeten "Sister Horizon" and "Breathe Real Slow" remind us that Lauderdale is at least nominally a country artist, and the twang in his voice reinforces the sincerity of his lyrics, like a guru who has ambled in from the deep South. Even the songs with a darker tone, like "The Brave One" and "When Searching for Answers," speak from a place of looking forward instead of focusing anguish within, and if you need an energy boost, the Dixie-fried jig of "Here's to Hoping" is made to order. Jim Lauderdale may not be available to be your life coach, but listening to Hope is the next best thing, and between the intelligence of the songwriting and the wisdom of its outlook, it's more than welcome as the world makes its way through a collective rough patch.

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