A wildly successful Nashville songwriter, Jim Lauderdale has delivered hits for George Strait, Patty Loveless, and Vince Gill but has never managed to achieve critical mass as a performer. At times it’s seemed like his efforts to narrow that gap have worked against his talents: he hit a creative peak with 1994’s Pretty Close to the Truth (Atlantic), a catchy blend of blue-eyed soul, subtle blues rock, pure pop, and old-fashioned honky-tonk, but his subsequent more commercial releases never did full justice to his quirky melodic gifts. Lately, however, he seems to have given up courting the Music City mainstream, breaking with the major labels to do more personal indie projects–including two fine bluegrass efforts with Ralph Stanley, Lost in the Lonesome Pines and I Feel Like Singing Today (both on Dualtone). Pleasing as those albums were, Lauderdale’s latest, Wait ‘Til Spring, made in collaboration with the eclectic bluegrass group Donna the Buffalo, gets him closer still to the heights of Pretty Close to the Truth. Although they’re stalwarts of the jam-band circuit, the Ithaca sextet generally keep their noodly tendencies in check; their outsize chops and versatility (heard particularly in the fiddle and accordion playing and harmony vocals of Tara Nevins) give Lauderdale the room to exercise his full range. He wails with bluesy intensity on “Slow Motion Trouble” and demonstrates his sanguine pop smarts on the California-style gem “That’s Not the Way It Works,” but he shines most brightly on the title track and on “Ginger Peach,” where his carefully measured rising and falling phrases recall Van Morrison at his soulful best. Lauderdale is opening for Donna the Buffalo with a solo set (drawn from one of the richest songbooks in modern country), but various members of the band will likely join in on some songs from the new album. Friday, December 5, 10 PM, Martyrs’, 3855 N. Lincoln; 773-404-9494.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kristen Barlowe.