Two Americana Legends, One Night

February 22nd, 2013

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale – The Bowery Ballroom – February 21, 2013

The Bowery Ballroom had a couple of seasoned veterans on hand last night: Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale. These guys aren’t just pros, but pro’s pros whose résumés include collaborations and projects with a who’s who of Americana giants. With the pedal steel and fiddle from band member Fats Kaplin permeating the set, “Buddy and Jim” mixed up a Cobb salad of Americana, from straight country tunes, like the opener, “I Lost My Job of Loving You,” to a zydeco take on the Johnnie and Jack standard “Down South in New Orleans.” Miller and Lauderdale complemented each other perfectly, like cousins whose reunions are filled with old stories, bad jokes and plenty of name-dropping.

The banter was either canned bits that felt ad-libbed or vice versa—one part Laurel and Hardy, two parts Doc and Merle. The relationship carried over into the music, their voices perfectly meshing whether in harmony, one backing the other, or trading verses between them. The set featured some superlative takes on standards, like George Jones’s “The Race Is On” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “The Wobble,” and material from their decades of work together and individually. The show felt like a story of the history of their ups and downs together, each song an anecdote in itself.

A third collaborator, Miller’s wife, Julie, was there in spirit, mentioned several times as a writer of, as it so happened, several of the stronger songs of the night, including a powerful “It Hurts Me.” But plenty of other friends found their way into the set, from Steve Earle, who was in the balcony as an audience member, to the departed Levon Helm, who had covered Miller’s “Wide River to Cross.” In the end, though, it was just Buddy and Jim (their names, the name of the band and the name of their new record, as they joked). Well into the set, it felt like they had enough material to go on forever, including the groovy honky-tonk of “Always on the Outside” and a bluesier “Vampire Girl,” off the new album—but eventually the fun had to end. The evening was summed up with “The Wobble,” dedicated to Earle, the audience in full-boogie mode, and Miller and Lauderdale finishing each other’s sentences like the pros they are. —A. Stein