Uncle Earl, Jim Lauderdale | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Uncle Earl, Jim Lauderdale 

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On their forthcoming second album, Waterloo, Tennessee (Rounder), all-female string band UNCLE EARL deftly juggle a variety of American rural-music forms while tossing aside common preconceptions about each. They bring sweetness to old-timey classics, gnawing intensity to singer-songwriter fare, restraint to bluegrass, and soul to contemporary folk tunes. A number of guest musicians step in to help flesh out the group's sharp, driving arrangements--including Gillian Welch on drums and John Paul Jones, the album's producer, on bass and piano--but the album hinges on the precise interplay of the core members' acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo. And though all four take turns singing lead, the moments when they harmonize are the real draw.

JIM LAUDERDALE churns out catchy tunes like a machine: his songs have been hits for the likes of George Strait, Mark Chesnutt, and the Dixie Chicks. He's also a fine performer, but as a recording artist he's been a phenomenal flop. That doesn't mean he hasn't been prolific--after parting ways with RCA in 1999, he put out seven albums on four independent labels over the next five years. Then he hooked up with Yep Roc, who last September showed the kind of faith in him no major would ever show, releasing two new full-lengths simultaneously: Bluegrass and Country Super Hits, Vol. 1. As the titles suggest, one is devoted to bluegrass, the other to mainstream honky-tonk, but as Lauderdale states in the press materials, "The bluegrass stuff could be cut by a country artist, and vice versa. To me, a good song is a good song, no matter how you do it." As usual his arrangements favor instrumental countermelodies and unconventional phrasing, but even when he drops a formulaic 70s-era tear-in-my-beer ballad like "I Met Jesus in a Bar" he shows no sign of rust.

Uncle Earl headline and Jim Lauderdale opens. a 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000 or 866-468-3401, $20, $16 kids and seniors. A

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