Reason and Rhyme: Bluegrass Songs by Robert Hunter & Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale

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Reason and Rhyme: Bluegrass Songs by Robert Hunter & Jim Lauderdale Review

by Mark Deming

Reason and Rhyme is Jim Lauderdale's second album in a row written in collaboration with songwriter Robert Hunter, best known as one of the Grateful Dead's key lyricists, but don't think they're repeating themselves, as the two records have very different personalities. Released in 2010, Patchwork River was one of Lauderdale's more rock-influenced efforts of recent years, while Reason and Rhyme is a bluegrass set, where Lauderdale embraces the acoustic sounds that have been an increasingly important part of his repertoire. On Patchwork River, Lauderdale seemed willing to shift the curvature of his melodies to fit his collaborator's lyrics, but Reason and Rhyme goes in the opposite direction, as Lauderdale's melodies take the lead and Hunter has streamlined his verses a bit to match, though "Tiger and the Monkey" and "Cruel Wind and Rain" feel a bit wordy by the standards of a traditional bluegrass number. However, this territory isn't at all foreign to Hunter, having written a solid bluegrass-styled album with Lauderdale in 2004, Headed for the Hills (not to mention Hunter's key role on the Dead's two most explicitly country-leaning albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty), and he and Lauderdale make a fine team on Reason and Rhyme; Hunter can tell stories about love and life that touch on the home truths common to folk and country music, bringing a fresh, literate tone to the songs without dipping into clich├ęs, while Lauderdale's melodies are splendid, honoring bluegrass conventions while showing off an energy and tuneful enthusiasm that's both contemporary and timeless. Few current bluegrass acts sing with the command and authority Lauderdale brings to his performances, and fewer still have a set of songs at their disposal as good as what Lauderdale and Hunter have composed for Reason and Rhyme, and it's another impressive installment in what's becoming one of the most interesting partnerships in roots music today.

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