Jim Lauderdale has never been known to shy away from a worthwhile collaboration, having cut some outstanding sessions with bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley and sat in with a broad range of artists from Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakam to Solomon Burke and Elvis Costello. And Patchwork River finds Lauderdale teaming up once again with Robert Hunter, with whom he previously collaborated on 2004's Headed for the Hills. Patchwork River features 13 new songs Lauderdale wrote in tandem with Hunter, best known for his work as a lyricist with the Grateful Dead. As one of the few men in Nashville with the courage of his country music convictions these days, Lauderdale moves significantly closer to rock & roll than usual on this album, though this music is still strong, rootsy stuff, with a potent, bluesy undercurrent audible on "Louisville Roll," "Jawbone," and the title tune, and plenty of full-on guitar howling on "Winonna." (Don't fret, "Between Your Heart and Mine" and "Far in the Far Away" demonstrate Lauderdale still writes a great country tune.) These songs are clearly collaborations between two writers, but Lauderdale's melodies bend themselves to the armature of Hunter's elliptical wordplay on Patchwork River, and the rhythms of the tunes sometimes recall Hunter's work with Jerry Garcia, even though Lauderdale's vocals are as distinctive as ever and his own melodic sense is clearly felt. Given the lyrics Hunter has written for this project, it wouldn't have been at all difficult to turn Patchwork River into a pseudo-Dead album in the manner of Workingman's Dead or American Beauty, and to his credit that's not what Jim Lauderdale has done, any more than he did on the previous Headed for the Hills. While it sounds and feels like a different sort of Lauderdale album, Patchwork River is still his own work, and on this second outing with Hunter he's allowed the partnership to inform his music without robbing it of his individual spirit, and similarly he hasn't diluted Hunter's poetic sensibility in the process.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming