(an album of songs by Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale)

May 11, 2010

"Patchwork River, Patchwork River
Me & Joe Farmer walk down together
Talk about hopes, talk about schemes
Talk about salvaging some of our dreams"
- Robert Hunter

Patchwork can refer to a collection of incongruous pieces, parts not necessarily united into a whole. But sometimes, in the hands of great craftsmen and women, those parts merge into a thing of beauty and warmth. Patchwork River weaves together the lyrical mastery of Robert Hunter and the songcraft of Grammy Award-winning artist Jim Lauderdale into something greater than the sum of its considerable parts.

"Jim is doing it the slow way. He never got the lucky breaks that shoot one performer to the top while hundreds of equal or greater merit slog around playing bars, releasing streetwise records that provide songs for others to cover. But doing it the hard way is where soul comes from, not the manufactured kind but the real thing. We all know this by heart, we've seen the movie. Well, Jim is a movie of his own. I'm proud to call him a friend and I know what I say is true. This man has what it takes. If you don't like country with a humble jolt of human soul, leave him alone." - Robert Hunter on Jim Lauderdale

Though Jim has never shot to the apex of public consciousness, his peers have recognized the immense quality in his slow ways. Jim has won two Grammys, the first for Lost In The Lonesome Pines, his 2002 collaboration with Dr. Ralph Stanley, and the second in 2008 for The Bluegrass Diaries. He was the Americana Music Association's Artist of the Year in 2002. His songs have been covered by artists like Georges Jones and Strait, The Dixie Chicks, Solomon Burke, Buddy Miller, Patty Loveless, Dave Edmunds, Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, John Mayall, Kathy Mattea, Gary Allan and Blake Shelton. As a musician, he has recorded and toured with Lucinda Williams and more recently as a member of Elvis Costello's band The Sugarcanes.

Patchwork River is Jim's 18th album, and his second album of songs written with Robert. The two met when Jim was preparing to record I Feel Like Singing Today, the first album he recorded with Dr. Ralph Stanley. Jim knew that Robert and Jerry Garcia were fans of Dr. Stanley and approached Robert about contributing lyrics to the album, which he agreed to do. The two became friends and wrote over thirty songs together during Robert's three-month visit to Nashville in 2001, thirteen of which wound up on the 2004 release Headed For The Hills. Jim visited Robert at his California home in 2007, where they wrote the songs that comprise Patchwork River.

For the recording Jim brought together an all-star cast. Helping with production were long-time production partner Tim Coates and Doug Lancio, who also played guitar. Additionally, James Burton, Al Perkins, Ron Tutt, Garry Tallent, Kenny Vaughan and Patty Griffin contributed their prodigious musical talents to Patchwork River.

"Robert has been a master for a long time now. He's one of the greatest writers that has ever lived in my book. He says things in songs that have never been said before. He paints pictures that have never been seen. I can't believe that I ever got to meet him, much less work with him. He's a world class genius." - Jim Lauderdale on Robert Hunter

That Robert Hunter has been one of rock music's most important poets is indisputable. From "Dark Star," his opening salvo as a member of the Grateful Dead, through contributing lyrics to ten of the eleven songs on Bob Dylan's 2009 Together Through Life album, Hunter has remained a vital force, weaving threads of love, profundity, sly humor and rhythm into his compositions. His iconic words (i.e. "What a long, strange trip it's been" from "Truckin'") are perhaps the strongest lyrical threads in the tapestry that is rock music's greatest communal experience.

On Patchwork River's title track, Hunter extols a simpler, loving life ("What you do for love alone will last / The rest just clutters up your past / If you don't know that much by now / You're never going to learn it anyhow"), while "Alligator Alley" spins a raucous tale of escape from a Floridian environmental apocalypse ("Everglades burning, Everglades burn / Once it's gone, there's no return") peppered with Hunter's wit ("She said you look like Elvis Presley / I said I know, it tends to stress me"). In "El Dorado," Hunter tells the story of an ancient mariner that has yet to find his spiritual city of gold and is aware that his powers are declining ("Jack of all trades been looking both high and low / I search closer to home these days, you never know / I was a sailor once, until I ran out of seas / Now I'm down on my knees looking for El Dorado"). A Robert Hunter lyric can kick open your mind, seize your heart and leave you smiling. He's been doing it this way for years.

Patchwork River is what happens when two friends, two masters, weave together their lifetimes of songcraft, spinning their yarns into a resplendent quilt - warm and familiar, inviting and artful. There's room under here for everyone.