In the Internet-sustained chaos of our times, the great relic of the uniquely American art form of country music has been lost. Instead of the pride of ol’ glory that it once was, it is now an oft-scoffed pejorative, pigeon-holed into the “I’ll listen to anything but country” conversational chestnut. Rather than mendin’ broken hearts like it was meant to, it gets scorned on Facebook music preferences. Toby Keith put a boot in its ass; Tim McGraw liked it and loved it to death; and in turn names like Waylon and Merle got lost on the iGeneration.
Thank god for people like Jim Lauderdale, a veteran of the Nashville scene who’s been a longtime collaborator with such revered titans as (among others) George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. Lauderdale takes his country/Americana/bluegrass amalgam to Minnesota’s State Fair later this month, toting a true sense of country music in his gee-tar case.
“When I think of country music I still think of George Jones, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris,” Lauderdale said. “ … And think that’s still what country music is.”
With seemingly every worthwhile artist a few bottles past his or her prime, the genre is entering “endangered” status. As we know, when a language dies not only is the language lost, but a unique way of thinking about the world goes with it. In a way, we are not losing country music, it is losing us. Lauderdale, however, believes in the hardiness of the craft.
“I don’t think it will [die]. It’ll keep having revivals,” Lauderdale said. “ … It’ll keep evolving or changing as a genre. But it won’t die.”
Aiding Lauderdale with the preservation effort is adept lyric scribe Robert Hunter, best known for his work with the Grateful Dead. Hunter and Lauderdale just released their second collaboration, “Patchwork River,” with the latter laying down melodies and the former filling in words. Lauderdale said Hunter’s Grateful Dead roots are still alive, and that they thrive well under his genre, which requires hardy storytelling and pastoral witticisms.
“[Hunter’s] roots are deep, I tell you. His range is so broad,” Lauderdale said. “He’s just such a totally realized artist. It’s perfect, what he does for country and bluegrass.”
As for the future, Lauderdale said he plans to continue recording, continue collaborating and never veer from the ol’ dusty road of country music.
“I don’t think [I’ll ever retire]. Some of my heroes like [George] Jones, he’s still touring, Willie Nelson, too. T-Bone Burnett, those guys,” he said. “I hope to keep singin’ when I’m old.”