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Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale

HEADED FOR THE HILLS (Dualtone) • Jim Lauderdale

Far exceeds my foolishly high expectations. The disc-long collaboration from benevolent giants of song Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale has been eagerly awaited by Lauderdalians far and wide. Jim's ever widening profile is well documented in our pages, he's been the subject of numerous reviews and a typically funny interview.

He's a man of many comic routines that he will repeat shamelessly at shows and in social situations, and I'll laugh at the same stuff over and over, because it's funny every time. The facial expressions, the timing, the little twists in the material based on the situation, he'll get you one way or the other. I was having breakfast at Folk Alliance with my buddy Arthur Godfrey, and Jim suddenly appeared at the table and asked in the perfect tone "Is everything okay, gentlemen, would you like any fresh ground pepper"? When I told the story later, another friend would say, "Oh yeah, he did that to me in Austin, at a Mexican restaurant" and tell that spin on the story. When I saw him showcase in Ronda Barton's Folk Alliance room the next day, he did the bit about forgetting his contact lenses. But he started it out by thanking everybody for showing up at the Youth for Bush rally. When he admitted he'd couldn’t really see anybody very well, then he did the part about asking how the people in the balcony were doing…he looks so funny when he's doing it, I lose it every time.

It's a toss up on Headed for the Hills, whether the talent or the tunes is the hottest element. Either is tough to beat. It starts with a spirited waltz of enlightened melody called "High Timberline" with Emmy Lou singing harmony, Darrell Scott and Tim O'Brien playing lead acoustic and mandolin, and Byron house on the bass. I'm sorry, but it doesn't get any better than that, it just doesn't. After I listened to that four or five times, then I was ready to proceed. There's a dozen red hot players (and singers like Emmy Lou, Allison Moorer, Gillian Welch, dobro wizard Randy Kohrs, and longtime co-producer Tim Coats) laying down a bed of coals for Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale to cook a dozen beautiful compositions over. Glad to be at the table.

I never thought that The Other Sessions could be displaced, but this is my new favorite Jim Lauderdale record. If you don't pony up the dough right after hearing the clips, well, I guess world class cosmic bluegrass is just not your thing, man. This guy is the best.  • FG

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