Jim Lauderdale Talks New Album 'I'm a Song' and Country Music: 'It's Constantly Evolving'

Once Jim Lauderdale started to record his latest album, "I’m A Song," he says it was hard to stop. The disc, released today (July 1), features twenty songs – more than he originally planned on. “I started it off two years ago. I went into the studio while a young man was doing a documentary on me. I wanted to have something he could film. So, I went into old RCA Studio A with a bunch of great guys, including James Burton on guitar and Al Perkins on steel. We ended up cutting nine songs that day,” he tells Billboard of how the creative process for the album began. Call that “Phase One” of the album.

“I thought in order to finish it, I wanted to put ‘King Of Broken Hearts’ on there.  I did it on (1991’s) Planet of Love, which has been out of print for a long time.” That just about completed the disc – or so Lauderdale thought. “I knew the title of the album was going to be 'I’m A Song,' so that gave me eleven. In the meantime, I had written another one that I wanted to out on there. By the time we got done, it turned out to be twenty,” he says with a laugh.

Fans will be excited to hear a new version of “King of Broken Hearts,” which also was recorded by George Strait in 1992 for his Pure Country soundtrack. Lauderdale told Billboard how the song came to be. “I was out in California. I’m such a big Gram Parsons fan, and one of the reasons I went out west was I desired to be around his stomping grounds. I started going out to Joshua Tree. I was reading this biography of Gram by Sid Griffin. There was a story about how Gram was having a party, and he started playing George Jones, and he told people ‘That’s the king of broken hearts.’ As soon as I read that, I got this jolt and started writing the song. I went out to Joshua Tree a few days later. I remember it being a full moon, and I finished it.” 

Strait recording the song proved to be a huge career boost. “When George recorded that and ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends,’ that was my break as a songwriter. It immediately boosted my career. I had been slugging it out for a long time. Then, George continued to record my songs – about fourteen in all. So, every year, I try to get a batch of songs to George,” Lauderdale said.

"I’m A Song" features vocal cameos from Buddy Miller, Lee Ann Womack, and Patty Loveless. Lauderdale has written many of Loveless’s biggest hits, including “Halfway Down,” and knew he wanted her voice on the album. “I didn’t have it all finished when I laid down the music, but I sent it to her, and luckily she was able to fit it in and sing me on it. One of the biggest things to ever happen to me was when she recorded ‘You Don’t Seem To Miss Me’ with George Jones,” he said, referring to their hit from 1997. “I still can’t believe it when I hear it. It still seems like a dream.”

Whether it be a song from his pen or his voice – Lauderdale has a style all his own – but how would he define it?  “If I had to define something, I would say quirky goes into my style. I started off in bluegrass, but never got to record any until years later with Ralph Stanley. The country stuff I did, there was always something about it that was a little different that might not get me on the radio, but it worked out at a different time that other artists could record them and have hits on them.” 

And, though commercial styles have evolved, Lauderdale says there is a lot of great music to be heard – in both the Americana and country formats. “Country keeps changing, and there are elements that are very traditional in part of it, and some that are progressive. Like any style of music, it’s constantly evolving. In ten years, it will be something else. I think we’ll always have certain themes and instrumentation, as well as certain melodies that will be constant. It will always be relevant, and will always have an audience. Some things in today’s Americana might sound like what country was fifteen years ago, and today’s country might have sound like what rock was at that point, but it all mingles in, and I think there is so much good stuff out there. There are so many new artists out there that are really great and vital, and so many veterans who deserve a place. There’s so many artists out there that are really good that there is not enough space for. We need to find new ways to give artists their due and exposure. We are not hurting at all for good music.”


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