Like Jay Farrar, Lauderdale’s Niles Lee has one of those rare voices that adds an extra layer of heartache, loneliness, and pain to whatever he sings. It seems like such a perfect fit for sad bastard music that I wonder if Lee had a religious experience the first time he sang a country song. If he did, it probably wasn’t a good one. Country singers are notorious for hearing heavenly voices and then doing the complete opposite of whatever they suggest. Think of the tribulations that Hank Williams Sr. and Ira Louvin went through. The lyrics in the title track of Moving On also shed some light on Lee’s relationship with the divine: “I know heaven don’t want me. And I ain’t nothing that hell needs.”
Lauderdale’s debut album came out in 2007 and Moving On – released earlier this month – is their second. During those four years, Lauderdale expanded from a three-piece to five members. The new instrumentation works well, teasing out melodies and some texture. For instance, about halfway through “Moving On,” the band lets up and the piano brings out the melody of the song, which is immediately answered by the pedal steel. It’s a moment of beauty, followed closely by the heartbreak of that beauty fading quickly away. (The video below does a good job of capturing this.)
The band sounds best during the slow, sad numbers. Yet Lauderdale keeps the album interesting by mixing in a few uptempo songs like “Stars Fell” and “Dressed Like The Devil,” which bring to mind early Old 97s. On the other hand, the two rockers (“The Grant” and “Torn at the Seams”) seem a bit out place with their barroom lambast.
While Lee may be blessed with a great voice, he was not so lucky with his problem solving skills. Throughout the album, we find Lee tackling his past mistakes by drinking (“Drink to Sleep”), running away (“Moving On”), and wallowing (“Broken Man”). However, there is also a self-awareness that these are failed strategies. And it’s his stubbornness to keep trying that offers a glimmer of hope. In “The Cost,” Lee sings, “When you’ve lost what you in need in your life, you don’t need a damn thing.” It may not be much but at least it’s a place to start anew.