Some music needs to be heard in concert to be fully appreciated. No amount of spin doctoring by journalists or peer pressure from fanatical fans can justify an act unless one catches said act live. Best to let the music do the talking in a live music venue and judge said act accordingly. And so it was, again, Thursday night at Bowery Ballroom where Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller performed a well-crafted, expertly executed set of Americana music that was exhilarating, entertaining, and well, just plain fun.
I first met the Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale back in the early '90s, around the release of his second solo CD, Pretty Close to the Truth. And I discovered Buddy because he played guitar on Jim's records. I was struck by how effortlessly Jim spun gold with his brand of authentic, rootsy Americana music. Real honest and honestly catchy. He and Buddy were the real deal during a time period when alt-country and roots-rock were the flavor du jour. Their take on Americana music was informed by the time they spent in N.Y.C., L.A., and Nashville, and by the music they loved -- country, gospel, bluegrass, rock, soul, and folk. Jim has never sold all that many records, even though his songs became hits for country artists including George Strait, Vince Gill, George Jones, and Patty Loveless, and were covered by many more, but his releases were always top-notch and critically lauded. Heck, he's even recorded a whole album (Reason and Rhyme) of tunes co-written by Grateful Dead collaborator Robert Hunter.
And Buddy Miller has done pretty damn well as a both a solo artist and as duo with his singer-songwriter wife Julie Miller. Moreover, he's expanded his career as a go-to producer and guitarist for folks such as Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Alison Krauss, Richard Thompson, Solomon Burke, and Robert Plant. So it was no surprise that Jim and Buddy would finally get around to recording a collection of tunes together. After all, they've been hosting their own SiriusXM Satellite radio show on the Outlaw Country channel for the past year.
On tour to support a new top-shelf album Buddy & Jim (New West), they returned to New York from Nashville as a killer quintet. And it only took them 33 years since they first met to do it!
One of the strongest cuts off that album, "I Lost My Job of Loving You," opened the evening, both men locked in on evocative parallel co-vocals -- dare I say, more hauntingly than even the Everly Brothers. They are terrific vocalists -- Buddy is more soulful while Jim possesses a more plaintive wail.
Not sure Buddy gets the public accolades he so deserves as a top-flight guitarist. He's got tone for ddddaaayyyyssss. Whether playing a simple, tremolo-heavy arpeggio or a blistering short lead on his Jerry Jones baritone or one of his two pawn shop guitars, he never wastes a note. Never more evident than on the up-tempo rhumba-as-rockabilly Lauderdale-penned "Vampire Girl" and the Joe Tex cover "I Want to Do Everything for You," both off the new record.
Sandwiched between the new album's songs and plenty of onstage banter that they've honed on their radio show, both men played solo acoustic numbers with and without their backing band of pedal steel/fiddle, upright bass, and drums. Lauderdale even shared a new plaintive love ballad that allowed his vocals to soar over his simple strummed chords. And props to Jim for sharing his ode to Gram Parsons, the George Strait hit "King of Broken Hearts." It was spot on.
They killed it on the George Jones cover "The Race Is On," with both men trading verses while Lauderdale evoked some of Jones's phrasing. And their live reading of Buddy's wife Julie Miller's mournful acoustic ballad "It Hurts Me," from the new LP, was a simple, yet stunning, old fashioned love song, with Fats Kaplan providing the requisite weepy pedal steel swells.
An encore of "Hole in My Head," a song they co-wrote and recorded for their own solo records that was covered by the Dixie Chicks, ended a most memorable music night. Catch them live, and buy their records. Well worth the effort.
This article first appeared on CultureCatch.com.