Buddy and Jim define harmony

Feb 25, 2013

It sounds like the set-up for a bad gag: How many harmony singers does it take to (fill in the blank)?

The good news, however, is the emergence of Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale into card-carrying stars is no joke.

It’s been quite a year for the longtime pals, who have been friends since they met in New York more than 30 years ago.

* “Buddy and Jim,” their album of original songs and covers of classic country duets, was spotted on many Best of 2012 lists despite being released late in the year.

* The “Buddy & Jim Radio Show” on Sirius XM is approaching its first anniversary.

* Miller is a music producer on ABC’s “Nashville.”

* Lauderdale is the subject of “The King of Broken Hearts,” a documentary by Australian filmmaker Jeremy Dylan.

In their spare time, Miller and Lauderdale will play the Southgate House Revival Thursday night, one of only 11 dates on a mini-tour that focused on bigger cities.

“Sometimes it does get to be pretty swamped,” Lauderdale says. “It’s nice to have a day every once in awhile. A travel day is counted as a day off.”

If that’s the case, Lauderdale was free the day he talked while driving from Nashville to Richmond, Va., to play with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.

One gets the feeling that no matter how bright the spotlight shines on either one of them, Miller and Lauderdale are just as comfortable standing to the side of the stage. Each has a successful solo careers; Miller was named Artist of the Decade in the final issue of “No Depression” magazine, and Lauderdale has a double-digit discography.

At heart, however, they are the consummate team players.

“I think when you sing with somebody, it’s that combination of wanting to complement them,” Lauderdale says. “That’s what harmony singing is; you want to blend in with them, add to what they’re doing. You don’t want to bring much attention to yourself.”

A noble sentiment to be sure, but there are some musicians and singers who are simply too talented to stay in the second line in perpetuity even if they don’t crave center stage. From that perspective, this collaboration makes perfect sense.

“He’s such a good friend, he’s such a great guy,” Lauderdale says of Miller. “Sometimes when I introduce him at one of my gigs or just when I’m talking about him, I get all kind of broken up for some reason.

“I think I’m just really grateful to him as well, he’s really helped me a lot through the years. I just admire him a lot as a human being.”

Heartfelt certainly, but Lauderdale is not the first or the last to use words like those to describe Miller, who truly seems to be everyone’s No. 1 buddy.

When Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant took a shine to Americana music a few years back, he chose Miller as his bandleader. When Richard Thompson, another legendary Brit, went to work on his latest album, “Electric,” he chose Miller to produce it. It’s just silly to list the folks who have Miller on speed dial.

And it’s not like Lauderdale is taking days off. In addition to Stanley, he has collaborated with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.

For now, though, the pair seems to be enjoying each other’s company, which could lead to another album.

“I’ve already been thinking about it,” Lauderdale says. “The other night when I was writing, some melodies were coming out that I want to write with Buddy or somebody else. So I’m already thinking in those terms and I hope we do.

“But of course you always have to think about if there is a demand for it, but I hope we can.”

Demand? Music market analysts are unanimous in their recommendation:  Buy Miller and Lauderdale.

Max Gomez: The Next Generation

If anyone has had a better year than Miller and Lauderdale it might be Max Gomez.

The New Mexico native’s debut album, “Rule the World,” was released last month on New West Records. This month he is opening the show for Miller and Lauderdale.

Gomez studied the blues masters (Robert Johnson and Lead Belly) as well as the folk masters (John Prine and Kris Kristofferson), and combines lessons learned into an interesting and original mixture.

If he takes advantage of his opportunity to watch his current tour mates closely, Gomez’s second album could be even better.