PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Jim Lauderdale: Headed for the Hills

Jason MacNeil

Jim Lauderdale

Headed for the Hills

Label: Dualtone
US Release Date: 2004-05-18
UK Release Date: Available as import

It's a good thing Jim Lauderdale has been around for as long as he has been, otherwise he might be considered to be cashing in on a very good thing. However, knowing all of the people who are on his latest album -- Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Allison Moorer, Tim O'Brien, and Buddy Miller -- seems to be paying off at the right time. A couple of years removed from the "O Brother Not Another Mountain Music Album" phase, Lauderdale's last recording with Donna the Buffalo was okay in spots. Compared to this record, though, which he co-wrote entirely with Robert Hunter, it is like rotten apples and ripe oranges. "High Timberline" has him on lead vocal and guitar while the overall feel is like that of the Carter Family. And with Emmylou providing high harmonies, Lauderdale is just as up to the task, nailing the tune swimmingly. O'Brien's mandolin also plays an important part, but it's the "group" mentality that makes it look and sound oh so easy. It also has that swaying, waltz-like arrangement that is an asset.

"Looking Elsewhere" features more of a gospel-blues-country-bluegrass collage as Lauderdale "comes around" with Randy Kohrs on harmony and dobro. You can picture them doing this around an old microphone in a semi-circle, possibly in one or two takes. Lauderdale and Hunter (who doesn't perform on the album at all) have taken the high road down these lonesome roads of heartache and heartbreak. It's as if you've heard these songs before, despite hearing them for the first time, a testament to their quality. Lauderdale even brings a bit of Buck Owens to mind on this track. "Sandy Ford (Barbara Lee)" is a throwback to the slightly frantic Civil War-tinted style, ambling steadily like a freight train. Justin Clark and Kohrs duel on mandolin and dobro, respectively, during the bridge. "What they do in civil war in peace time they call crimes", Lauderdale sings as the time passes easily for nearly five minutes.

One of the early high moments comes during the bluesy mountain aura hanging over "Headed for the Hills", thanks in large part to the tandem of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Every other line has Lauderdale reaching a bit near the end of the lyric, but it's not enough to turn you off. The greatest thing going for the musician is his ability to be entirely authentic in this style, especially on the slower yet cute "Trashcan Tomcat", which has Lauderdale in his niche. "Even madness has its season / Well you know it's difficult / Never ask and know the reason when you can judge by the result", he sings prior to Byron House's bass stepping into the fold more than earlier songs. "Paint and Glass" has much in common with Welch's "Caleb Meyer", offering a bit more edge due to Buddy Miller and particularly Bucky Baxter (Steve Earle circa Exit O) on mandolin. "Tales from the Sad Hotel" is the first song to fall flat, which seems disappointing considering Allison Moorer is doing a duet with Lauderdale. It's almost too slow or rigid for its own good. She atones for it with a much stronger "Leaving Mobile", a number which has a lot of Irish or Celtic melody pouring from it despite the topic being leaving a city in Alabama.

The best track of the baker's dozen is "Joanne", which ventures into singer/songwriter Americana enough to soar. Baxter's pedal steel guitar might make the tune work also, but Lauderdale is able to convey the sadness in the lyrics without much work, hoping for one more chance to make things right. But for all this strength, the rather mundane "I'll Sing Again" is a run-through that shouldn't be included as it has nothing going for it. The Allison Moorer trilogy concludes with "Head for the Sun", a '70s style George-and-Tammy or Conway-and-Loretta duet that is very easy on the ears. Thankfully, there isn't a large lush arrangement behind it also. The record would stand apart from most of the "mountain" albums on the go now, but a who's who that accentuate the songs only adds to its triumphant and fulfilling achievement.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.