“Headed For The Hills” by Jim Lauderdale is one of the best albums I’ve heard in ages. Each song is co-written by Robert Hunter, but it’s not the Deadhead in me that’s singing Lauderdale’s praises. It’s the lover of traditional acoustic music in me that sits in awe of this richly nuanced work.
Writing on All Music, Thom Jurek has this to say:
On first listen, what grips the listener is how much of a piece these songs are. They feel like a song cycle of life slices from the rural edges of American life. Rich with guitars, fiddles, harmony vocals, mandolins, and a distinct lack of drums, this is back porch, Saturday night music, played among friends while observing the passing day, the surrounding terrain, legends, and the places in the heart that are not easily given over to conversation. Hunter is a master at communicating the interconnectedness of all three; he has the ability to make the commonplace epic, which he does with Lauderdale’s stunning, out-of-antiquity melodies. But this is a stretch for Hunter too; there is no slow California stroll in his approach because Lauderdale’s melodies are rooted in the urgency of rural and mountain music from the Civil War as well as modern bluegrass and antiquated American folk songs derived from Anglo-Celtic balladry. Lauderdale understands tradition in a way few modern songwriters do — he’s not interested in taming it for the sake of palatability, or taking away its weird, unsettling alien power.
It should be noted that there are a boatload of guests artists on this set, including instrumentalists Darrell Scott, Tim O’Brien, Donna the Buffalo, and David Rawlings, as well as singers Buddy Miller, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, and Allison Moorer.