With his latest album, Hope, Jim Lauderdale releases another set of well-crafted songs, integrating rock, country, and folk templates. Inspired in large part by the global suffering he witnessed during the COVID epoch, Lauderdale addresses universal themes, including the resilience of the human spirit. Additionally, he speaks into the need for “intentional living,” how everyday dialogues and actions, more so than major decisions or mega-contributions, determine the quality of one’s life and legacy.
The sequence opens with “The Opportunity to Help Somebody Through It,” Lauderdale’s post-COVID optimism immediately infectious: “Sitting still no action / it’s time to move / it feels good to get some traction / while you’re howling at the moon.” Chris Scruggs offers a succinct yet riveting guitar solo. “Sister Horizon” is a dreamy and pop-infused tune with a hook-y chorus. On the song’s bridge, Frank Rische’s acoustic guitar interweaves with Micah Hulscher’s piano part, comprising a memorable interlude.
On “The Brighter Side of Lonely,” Dave Racine provides a shuffling drum part that establishes the track’s tempo and mood. “The world is casting such a shadow / but the sun will always rise,” Lauderdale sings, acknowledging the viability of grief while pointing to its impermanence. A wispily melodic guitar solo by Russ Pahl brings to mind Clapton circa “Wonderful Tonight.” On “Breathe Real Slow,” Lauderdale adopts a baritone/bass-y voice reminiscent of Jamey Johnson. The song is a reminder that we can navigate the challenges of our lives with equanimity, remaining steadfast in the face of trouble.
“Walking around half asleep / been that way every week,” Lauderdale observes on “Don’t You Dream Anymore,” pointing to how our habits and responsibilities can cumulatively disconnect us from our higher aspirations. “Here’s the Hoping,” on the other hand, is an upbeat prompt to frame one’s life in a positive way and practice gratitude: “the half-full glass is almost gone / but there might be a drop that’s still floating.” Horns expand the project’s sonic range, hinting at the classic Muscle Shoals sound.
“When Searching for Answers” highlights how inquiry often delivers “more than you asked for,” Lauderdale suggesting that our lives are less self-determined than we think. While our choices may point us in a specific direction, what we encounter as we proceed is often much different than what we expected. The set closes with the gospel-inspired and vocally layered “Joyful Noise,” Lauderdale’s call to “celebrate all we’ve got.”
The message throughout Hope is one of encouragement, reminders that we’re greater than our obstacles or apparent shortcomings. Our suffering is impermanent and will lead to shareable wisdom. In this way, as the Western world transitions from the COVID era into whatever norms may ensue, Hope extends an aptly optimistic message, Lauderdale serving as a philosopher-cheerleader of sorts. While this world still faces many social, environmental, and economic hurdles, we can, Lauderdale urges, venture forth with a sense of dignity and love for others.