Jim Lauderdale, with
Ralph Stanley & the
Clinch Mountain Boys,
Lost in the Lonesome Pines
(Dualtone, 2002)

Jim Lauderdale and Ralph Stanley have recorded together before, but this new CD tops their previous efforts and sets a new standard for bluegrass singing-songwriting this year. Man, what a great CD this is from beginning to end, the sort of music that reminds you why you fell in love with bluegrass in the first place, and a great introduction to the genre for newcomers, since you can't get much better than this.

Except for Bill Monroe's "Boat of Love," all the songs here are by Lauderdale, either written alone or with collaborators, and they're a bumper crop. "Deep Well of Sadness" gets us started with deep blue bluegrass with a strong central image, and "The Apples Are Just Turning Ripe" is another gem, with great vocals by both men. Stanley sounds better than ever, and his high notes ring like ancient, weathered bells. The title track sounds like it was written circa 1938 and has a lovely old-timey feel, while "Zacchaeus" takes us into gospel territory with its skillful choral construction.

"Quit That" could have been a long-lost early Jimmy Martin Decca cut, and that's high praise indeed. The same might be said of the next song, "I Think Somebody Better Come Back Home." It's a good 'un. By the time we get to "Redbird," listeners should be stunned by Lauderdale's ability to write new songs that you'd swear were done 50 or 60 years earlier. An uninformed bluegrass fan might think, "By golly, these are classics! Why haven't I heard these before?" Because they were just written, friend. Of course, the presentation also helps. Doctor Ralph has one of the greatest mountain voices ever and Lauderdale has a superb lead bluegrass voice, with both power and range, as well as great expressiveness.

There's a fine heartbreak song in "Forever Ain't No Trouble Now," and "She Would Not Tell Her More" boasts some dandy harmony on the chorus. Lauderdale mines the Hank Williams vein with "Oh Soul!" There's chuckles a-plenty in "She's Looking at Me," in which the members of the group try to decide who's getting the eye from an attractive female in the audience. Monroe's "Boat of Love" receives a flawless reading, and "Listen to the Shepherd" wraps things up in style. It's an a cappella call-and-response gospel song led by Stanley, and it's sublime.

What more can you want from bluegrass? The songs are amazingly good, the voices ring of the high mountains and the two leaders and the Clinch Mountain Boys are strong instrumentally throughout. The CD is only a brief 40 minutes, but it may be the best 40 minutes of bluegrass I've heard all year.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 23 November 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.