The Other Sessions (CD)

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When Jim Lauderdale issued his 1991 masterpiece Planet of Love, the critics were falling all over themselves proclaiming him the king of progressive country who was ushering in the era of Americana. He wrote songs for everyone from Kathy Mattea to the glorious Patty Loveless to the two "Georges": Jones and Strait. Ten years later, Lauderdale's made almost as many records of all kinds of music, from rootsy rock to slick, funked-up country to a bluegrass album with Ralph Stanley. All of them had their moments, and most of them were good, but until now he's never issued a record as pure and solid as The Other Sessions. It's a 12-pack of hardcore, honky tonk country songs written in the tradition of Merle Haggard, Hank Thompson, Bobby Bare, and Del Reeves. And it should, since 11 of the 12 tunes were co-written with country stalwarts like Reeves, Harlan Howard, Melba Montgomery, Kostas, and Clay Blaker. But it doesn't end with the songs. The musicians on this set read like a who's who of contemporary music — country and otherwise. There's Billy Bremner from Rockpile, pedal steel god Bucky Baxter, Stan Lynch from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Reese Wynans, Tammy Rodgers, Roy Huskey, Jr., Pat Buchanan — and that's not even half of the musicians involved. The quality lies in Lauderdale's delivery as both a singer and a visionary. He takes hard country songs, plays them the hard country way, and makes them sound as contemporary as the latest Nelly record. There isn't a fusion or crossover bone in the guy's body, but he can make any rock & roll fan fall head over heels for these tracks. The best stuff here — the truck rock anthem "Diesel, Diesel, Diesel," the wine-swilling "Honky Tonk Haze," and the deep, down-in-the-flesh love song "Just to Get to You," co-written with Montgomery — will be covered by others but never with as much raw gumption and swagger. This is the country record Elvis Presley could never have made though he wanted to, and it's the rock record Haggard's been trying make since the '80s. None of the alt-country, "americorna" kids can touch this because it's not about riffs and postures, it's about craft and vision. The Other Sessions is one of the finest hard country records to be issued since the 1960s. Period. It's also the new watermark by which Lauderdale has to judge himself. Forget Americana — this is country music.

1) If I Were You 
2) Just To Get To You 
3) I'd Follow You Anywhere 
4) What's On My Mind 
5) Merle World 
6) You'll Know When It's Right 
7) Honky Tonk Haze 
8) First Things First 
9) Oh My Goodness 
10) Diesel Diesel Diesel 
11) Born Believers 
12) It's Not Too Late