Reason and Rhyme by Jim Lauderdale

You won’t hear him on country radio, but Jim Lauderdale doesn’t need to make waves on the air. Over the past 12 years, the eclectic yet thoroughly country-rooted singer/songwriter has flirted increasingly with the bluegrass scene to much acclaim, starting with I Feel Like Singing Today, his 1999 collaboration with Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys. Not even that call to old-time musical tradition stopped the inimitable artist from skewing sideways by co-writing with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Here, Jim again collaborates with Hunter, this time filling an entire album with subject matter rarely aligned with bluegrass norms and wordplay both complex and subtly comic. But his musical command of the genre is without flaw, as is his band’s. Producer Randy Kohrs’ fleet-fingered resonator guitar rips through Reason and Rhyme with particular abandon, joined by equally inspired licks from his fellow pickers. At one point, Jim notes his distaste for supermarket music in my ear; accordingly, the turquoise-hued bluegrass offered here is anything but generic—it’s specialty-shop stuff.

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