I’d like to think we’re missing something, my co-editor and I, when it comes to Jim Lauderdale. Understand that the two of us quite often don’t see eye to eye in our musical tastes, a divergence that hopefully helps bring a broader and more balanced overall perspective to these pages. But here’s one song we seem to sing in unison: What exactly is it that makes Jim Lauderdale such a highly touted talent in the country underground?
No shortage of peers whose opinions we largely respect, trust and often agree with have given Lauderdale’s work their seal of approval, only for the both of us to listen carefully to each release and wonder what we’re missing. Persimmons, though an indie-label break between major-label deals (Lauderdale was previously on Atlantic and is headed for RCA), was just another log on that fire.
Mind you, Lauderdale isn’t bad, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that there’s rarely anything compelling going on in his music, any distinctive spark that calls out to demand another trip through the CD player. His voice is pleasant enough but isn’t particularly memorable; his songwriting skills are sturdy enough to carry along his rootsy inclinations, but they almost never aspire to anything more than run-of-the-mill barroom fare.
There are occasional exceptions. The lonesome longing in Lauderdale’s voice during the chorus of “Do You Like It” provides a welcome moment of emotional inspiration, and having Emmylou Harris as a singing partner on “Some Things Are Too Good To Last” certainly helped bring out the best in his vocal abilities. But more often than not, the songs on Persimmons just roll on by with an almost assembly-line quality.
None of which necessarily discounts all the praise that’s been bestowed on Jim Lauderdale. It’s just that we’ve yet to hear the evidence to support it.