Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale’s meet-up with his old friend (and Sirius radio co-host) Buddy Miller feels like a subtle realignment after the cosmic-country tilt of his three preceding albums – deep, sly and masterful collaborations with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Buddy and Jim, by contrast, is a solid collection rooted in classic country balladry and rockabilly rambunctiousness. Miller, who produced the album with vintage flair, foregrounds the duo’s grainy close harmonies. If they sound like resigned barroom buddies in the timely, uptempo “I Lost My Job of Loving You,” they’re several breakups closer to self-immolation in “Forever and a Day” and wife Julie Miller’s “It Hurts Me” (“when you bring me to tears and you think no one hearsâ€¦”).
Economical soloing by fiddler Stuart Duncan and steel guitarist Russ Pahl adds color and verve to the Cajun-rock standard “South in New Orleans” and “The Train That Carried My Gal From Town,” an oft-recorded choogler from the ’20s; nor does the concise-to-a-fault Miller waste a single note himself while soloing in B&J’s cover of Joe Tex’s “I Want to Do Everything for You” – you only wish there were more of him. Unlike T-Bone Burnett, Miller burnishes the past without overly fetishizing it, which works particularly well on a perfect pair of weirdo rockabilly numbers, Lauderdale’s “Vampire Girl” and Jimmy McCracklin’s 1959 dance-craze attempt, “The Wobble.” Buddy and Jim turn out to be just a couple of country gentlemen having a ball while keeping it down-to-earth.