What defines Americana? The range of Jim Lauderdale’s music from one side of the perspective to the other is a good place to start. The guy can do Gospel, hard country, country rock, Muscle Shoals soul, bluegrass, and acoustic songwriter material, all with alacrity and authority, and probably recite you an oral history of each on the spot. This is the skill you accrue when you live and breathe music down to your every molecule like Jim Lauderdale does.
Take his last album before this new one. It was called Soul Searching and showed how the roots of soul intertwine with so much of Southern music, and that Jim Lauderdale can write, sing, and perform in that realm without taking a step down in quality from his country material. It may have not been the right speed for some of Lauderdale’s country fans, but you can still appreciate that he showed respect and command for music some might think is foreign to him. But with Jim Lauderdale, you never have to worry that he’s shifted his career in some strange or different direction. He’s prolific to say the least, and with many of his records he likes to touch on some influence or theme he’s never addressed before in a dedicated manner.
Jim Lauderdale decided that since he’d never made a Texas country record, he’d head down to Austin and assembled a hot shit band of Texas pickers and players, and record himself a Texas country project in one day at Arlyn Studios. Lauderdale wrote or co-wrote every song on the record, and each one has a Texas flavor of some sort.
What does Jim Lauderdale know about country music from Texas? Well in truth he helped define it in a certain way. He wrote 14 songs for George Strait, and Strait thought so highly of him, he showed up to the 2016 Americana Awards and sang one of them with Lauderdale before bestowing him Americana’s Wagonmaster Award. This Changes Everything includes the song “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This” that Lauderdale wrote and Strait turned into a Top 5 hit. It also includes songs co-written with Texas artists Bruce Robison and Hayes Carll. Jim Lauderdale may originally be from North Carolina, but as a tireless student and aficionado of music, there’s no sphere of roots music he can’t fly in.
This Changes Everything includes some songs Lauderdale has previously recorded for other projects done anew, some songs with a Texas flavor recorded by others, and some songs never heard before by anyone in Texas or beyond. The album starts off with its best cut, the title track “This Is Everything,” with its copious steel guitar, and Texas dancehall mood. If you’re a fan of steel guitar loud and heavy in the mix, you’re gonna want to pick this record up.
Since this record is in tribute to Texas music, you’re not surprised to hear a Western Swing track in the second spot, but it’s actually that signature Jim Lauderdale songwriting that makes “You Turned Me Around” a special track. There’s a lot of pondering on cheating on this record, including the previously-mentioned George Strait cut, which Launderdale credits for helping to launch his career, and the similarly-themed “The Weakness of Two Hearts.” Every song on This Changes Everything is solid, aside from maybe “All The Rage in Paris” in how it drops little mentions of Texas country lore in a sort of transparent effort, though the song is totally correct in how a band or artist can be huge in Texas, and that might as well be being big all over the world.
This is the 29th studio album from Jim Lauderdale for those counting, and as the once lucrative and noble occupation of country music songwriting falls into the hands of a select few formulaic hit writers, Jim Lauderdale will have to lean on his own album releases and touring to pay his way in life moving forward. This may mean a transition of sorts for Lauderdale moving forward.
Can Texas country also be considered Americana? With its emphasis on songwriting, instrumentation, and preserving traditions, it’s as worthy as anything else for the distinction. And now that Americana’s grand marshal has cut a Texas country record, it’s all but official.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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Artists appearing on This Changes Everything include pedal steel player Tommy Detamore, drummer Tom Lewis (Heybale, Whitney Rose), pianist Floyd Domino (Asleep at the Wheel), Bobby Flores, Kevin Smith (Willie Nelson’s bass player), Chris Masterson, and vocalists Brennen Leigh, Noel McKay and Sunny Sweeney.
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Sorry, no samples available unless you do the Spotify thing: