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Album Review: Reason and Rhyme: Bluegrass Songs by Robert Hunter & Jim Lauderdale by Jim Lauderdale
Fairly Good, Based on 4 Critics
AllMusic - 70 Based on rating 7/10
Reason and Rhyme is Jim Lauderdale's second album in a row written in collaboration with songwriter Robert Hunter, best known as one of the Grateful Dead's key lyricists, but don't think they're repeating themselves, as the two records have very different personalities. Released in 2010, Patchwork River was one of Lauderdale's more rock-influenced efforts of recent years, while Reason and Rhyme is a bluegrass set, where Lauderdale embraces the acoustic sounds that have been an increasingly important part of his repertoire. On Patchwork River, Lauderdale seemed willing to shift the curvature of his melodies to fit his collaborator's lyrics, but Reason and Rhyme goes in the opposite direction, as Lauderdale's melodies take the lead and Hunter has streamlined his verses a bit to match, though "Tiger and the Monkey" and "Cruel Wind and Rain" feel a bit wordy by the standards of a traditional bluegrass number.
This album is subtitled Bluegrass Songs by Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale, and it's the input from Hunter that makes it special. He was, after all, the lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and responsible for co-writing their folk and country-influenced classics, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, in the early 70s. Here he teams up with Lauderdale, a successful Nashville singer-songwriter whose songs have been covered by the likes of the Dixie Chicks, and who has also been involved in projects reviving Grateful Dead material.
We all know the legendary songwriting duos of the 20th century: Elton and Bernie, Burt and Hal, Lennon and McCartney, Leiber and Stoller others. But in the 21st century there really haven’t been any serious contenders when it comes to writing teams whose work will live on after they’re gone, especially in an age of downloaded singles. Perhaps the closest thing we have to that status so far in these modern times is Jim Lauderdale and Robert Hunter.
After Jerry Garcia's death, no one would have pegged Jim Lauderdale as Robert Hunter's favorite co-writer, but Reason and Rhyme teams Nashville's song machine with the Grateful Dead lyricist once again. Last year's highly-touted collaboration Patchwork River was a roots-rock affair, and this time they get high and lonesome, with bluegrass featuring some of Music City's foremost pickers, including Mike Compton, Scott Vestal, Tim Crouch, and Randy Kohrs. Together, Hunter and Lauderdale straddle what Ralph Stanley calls "mountain music" and a contemporary ethos with phenomenal ease.