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The Hummingbirds

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As engaging as some of Jim Lauderdale's recent genre exercises have been, The Hummingbirds finds his creativity flying free and unfettered. The result is his freshest-sounding collection since 1994's Pretty Close to the Truth. No other country release is likely to name check both Dante's Inferno ("Eternal") and Salvador Dali ("Rollin' the Dice"), evoke the metaphysical yearnings of "I'm Happiest When I'm Moving" and the bluegrass-tinged "New Cascade," or find primarily acoustic arrangements sparking such dynamically electric interplay. Vocal support from Emmylou Harris and Julie Miller highlights the album-opening "Midnight Will Become Day," Bekka Bramlett's harmony adds a soulful dimension to "Jacob's Ladder" (one of two Lauderdale collaborations with longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter), and guest musicians including mandolinist Sam Bush, guitarist Tony Rice, and fiddlers Stuart Duncan and Tim O'Brien, who provide stellar backing. Although the rest of the material is new, one of the album's standout tracks finds Lauderdale resurrecting "I Know Better Now," previously recorded by Kelly Willis. --Don McLeese

1 Midnight Will Become Day
2 There and Back Again
3 I'm Happiest When I'm Moving
4 It's a Trap
5 Eternal
6 Morning
7 Hummingbird
8 Let's Not Say It's Over
9 I Know Better Now
10 It's Worth Looking Up
11 Jacob's Ladder
12 Rollin' the Dice
13 New Cascade