TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale are two singer-songwriters who've each written hits for numerous country and rock artists and have had their own extensive solo careers as performers and producers. The new album "Buddy and Jim" is their first collaboration. It's a mixture of original songs and covers of songs from earlier decades of country, rock, folk and soul music. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THAT'S NOT EVEN WHY I LOVE YOU")
BUDDY MILLER: (Singing) I've been up so high. I've been down so low. But you follow me everywhere I go.
JIM LAUDERDALE: (singing) I've been out so far. You're still here so far. You could be anywhere, but here we are. Always there. Yes, we are.
BUDDY MILLER AND JIM LAUDERDALE: (singing) That's not even why I love you...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's a Buddy Miller-Jim Lauderdale original - a plaintive weeper called "That's Not Even Why I Love You." Although they've worked with big names as various as Robert Plant and George Strait, Miller and Lauderdale have never become big stars in their own right and a song like that may suggest why.
They enjoy a good pity party, a well-crafted downer that takes its time before it gets to the hook. In this sense, they're throwbacks to an earlier era of country music when another new song they've written, "Looking for a Heartache Like You" would've been a honkytonk hit in the '50s and '60s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOKING FOR A HEARTACHE LIKE YOU")
LAUDERDALE: (Singing) Here I go again. Got myself in trouble. Baby, I need help. Get here on the double. You must be the one to show me signs so subtle. I think you ought to spend more time inside my bubble. Looking for a heartache like you. I'm looking for a heartache like you. Here's to everyone...
TUCKER: Both Lauderdale and Miller have rough, urgent voices. Their harmonies are nice and vinegary, not surgingly interconnected the way true old country brother acts such as the Louvin Brothers and the Wilburn Brothers were. If they don't share the genes, though, they connect through shared emotion in a song such as "Lonely One in This Town" which has been recorded by acts ranging from the Mississippi Sheiks to the Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN")
LAUDERDALE: (Singing) I'm the lonely one in this town. Everybody tried to throw me down. I'm lonely as I can be. I'm the lonely one in this town. Everybody tried to throw me down. I'm lonely. Can't you see? Because I'm a stranger here, everybody turned his back on me. I believe I'll go right back, back home on to Tennessee. I'm the lonely one...
TUCKER: Miller and Lauderdale host a highly entertaining show on satellite radio spinning records and interviewing some of their favorite artists. They're so good they once almost made me overcome my long-standing resistance to Tony Joe White purely on the basis of the latter's "Polk Salad Annie." Buddy and Jim are persuaders, for sure. They can almost make you believe that their version of Joe Tex's "I Want to do Everything for You" is better than the original.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT TO DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU")
LAUDERDALE: (Singing) I want to hold you in my arms till you say turn me loose. I want to do little things for you till you say it ain't no use. I want to wake with you every morning with a good morning kiss. I want to kiss you to sleep the same way 'cause I know you like this. I want to do everything for you 'cause that's all that a man can do when he loves a woman like I love you. And I love you. Love you.
(Singing) I love you. Love you. I love you. Love you. Ooh-whee I love you. I want to say sweet things to you...
TUCKER: This album is all over the map, from the country blues of "The Train That Carried My Gal From Town," reminiscent of Frank Hutchison's recording in the 1920s, to a '50s rockabilly blaster called "The Wobble." But it's in the brokenhearted ballads that the duo does its best work, here offering an impressively forthright admission of pain in interpreting a song from Buddy Miller's musical wife Julie on "It Hurts Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT HURTS ME")
LAUDERDALE: (Singing) When I look in your eyes and they're telling me lies, it hurts me. When your passions grow old and your kisses grow cold, it hurts me. I long ever to be your only desire. How it hurts not to feel your heart's burning fire. But I won't let it show 'cause I don't want you to know it hurts me. When you hear what I say...
TUCKER: Ultimately, Buddy and Jim see their job as describing variations on heartache and desolation. But the trick is to render these emotions with sufficient energy - a kind of lust for melancholy - that keeps you coming back for more.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed the album "Buddy and Jim." You can download Podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org, and you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.