More than a few mainstream country artists have dipped their toes into bluegrass when they need a quick fix of roots-friendly musical integrity, but not many of them stick around, given the demands of the music -- bluegrass is a genre where there's nothing to hide behind if you don't have the goods. Jim Lauderdale, however, has been balancing a career in contemporary country with a sideline in bluegrass that's come to be every bit as important as his first gig. A bit less than a year after releasing a fine album simple titled Bluegrass, Lauderdale returns to the acoustic format withThe Bluegrass Diaries, and like his earlier forays into the genre, it shows that his voice and songwriting style lend themselves to bluegrass with an easy grace. The plainspoken twang of Lauderdale's voice sounds as effortlessly authentic as the hills, but he brings a 21st century sensibility to his music that strikes a grace note between old and new thinking, and his songs plumb traditional themes of faith, love, and heartache without suggesting he's recycling dusty relics of country's past. Lauderdale has long been one of Nashville's more celebrated songwriters, and The Bluegrass Diaries features 11 winners from his pen, from the high-spirited "One Blue Mule" and the heartfelt celebration of new love "My Somewhere Just Got Here" to the unsentimental spiritual "Can We Find Forgiveness" and the survivor's tale "Looking for a Good Place to Land." Lauderdale is joined by a superb ensemble on this album, including Randy Kohrs on Dobro, Richard Bailey on banjo, Jesse Cobb on mandolin, and Aaron Till on fiddle, and they give these songs the sharp and passionate performances they deserve. Jim Lauderdale has quietly become one of the finest voices on the contemporary bluegrass scene, and The Bluegrass Diaries is a winning example of his considerable gifts as a performer and songwriter, a collection of heartfelt music as honest and beautifully crafted as the day is long.