Whether as co-writer, bandleader, master of ceremonies or musical ambassador for musical styles or states, Jim Lauderdale has been one of Americana music’s all-time great collaborators. And his new album with the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, “The Long and Lonesome Letting Go,” stands as one of the best collaborative works in his 36-album discography.
“Po’ Ramblin’ Boys just really speak to and resonate with me,” says Lauderdale. “I hear so much of the great traditional bluegrass sound in them and it makes me so happy to see a younger band of their generation carrying the style forward so well. They’re all so great in what they all do, both individually and as a performing band. I’ve always been blown away by them, so I was just very excited that they were interested in collaborating with me.”
Based in Nashville, Po’ Ramblin’ Boys first crossed paths with Lauderdale at the annual MerleFest festival in North Carolina a few years back, when they asked him to sit in on their set on the festival’s Hillside Stage. Lauderdale returned the favor the following year, bringing Po’ Ramblin’ Boys out for his show on the Cabin Stage. They kept crossing paths at other festivals, too, finally deciding to move ahead with a record.
It was a dream gig for all the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, but especially mandolinist C.J. Lewandowski -- a fan since he started seeing Lauderdale shows while growing up in Missouri.
“When he came to ask about making an album, we were seriously blown away,” says Lewandowski. “It was really validating – Jim Lauderdale calling US to do a bluegrass album, we must be doing something right. He’s good at everything, just being himself and he fits into so well into so many different genres, but especially bluegrass.”
Lauderdale co-wrote all 12 songs on the album, half of them with Po’ Ramblin’ Boys guitarist Josh Rinkel, and they’re all classic old-school bluegrass with excellent ensemble arrangements. Lauderdale and Rinkel worked on their co-writes in a number of sessions, starting with “I’m Only So Good” – which concludes, “at being good.” Like most Lauderdale co-writes, it grew organically out of a conversation.
“We got together and got to talking, and Josh mentioned a situation that was tempting him,” Lauderdale recalls. “And he said, ‘I’m only so good at being good.’ It kind of wrote itself from there, and that set the course for us to co-write six of these songs.”
Other co-writers include 10-time IBMA Award winner Becky Buller, North Carolina old soul Joe Newberry, well-traveled producer/songwriter Jimmy Ritchey, and rising young guns Logan Ledger and Alex Leach. Also of note is the song that kicks off the album, the title track, co-written with Bob Minner – and featuring Lauderdale trading verses with Bluegrass Hall of Famer Del McCoury. It’s the first time they’ve ever recorded together.
“I felt like that song ought to kick off the record, and somebody in Po’ Ramblin’ Boys said, ‘You know, Del would sound great on this,’” Lauderdale says. “Of course! So we reached out and luckily he was available. It didn’t feel right to just have him on the chorus, so he and I switch off a few lines in the verses. I’d never gotten to record with Del before, so that was a real treat.”