Real Country Music
Mighty Lonesome Man
Mighty Lonesome Man/Years I’ve Been Loving You/Lesson In Depression/Please Me When You Can/The Drought/Old Man Henry/Now Not Later/My Witness/Wish You Would Kiss Me/You Almost Fell/Favorite Fool/You Were With Me Then/Bonus Tracks (CD Only) Get Rhythm/You’re An Angel
Produced by Deborah J. Perry
Hillgrass Bluebilly Records
I’ve heard it said, many times, that what draws some people to Country Music is that the songs reflect real life. And in the songs, people recognize themselves. I’ve also heard that what explains the longevity in the careers of some artists is that the artists maintain a relationship with their fans. The fans feel that the artist is speaking to them.
Of course, these explanations for the magic found in Country Music are rather quaint and cliché. But they do hint at something that is true, without naming it outright. And that is that we expect our artists, and their music, to be honest and authentic.
No one questions George Jones. His best performances were glimpses into his soul, and sometimes our own. Lefty Frizzell, singing, so plaintively, “I Want To Be With You Always” offered us a rawness and truth not often captured. Besides having great voices, these men, along with St. Hank of course, were masters at expressing emotion. There have been others, but they are rare, we can all agree.
And it is in a conversation such as authentic artistry that James Hand should be mentioned. He has a voice and a pen like no other. His writing is sparse, but controlled. He can paint a picture that no one else can paint. He is simply James Hand. James Hand did not exist before him and will not exist after he is gone.
Now, there are moments that a song kind of sounds like something Hank Williams would have done like “Wish You Would Kiss Me” or “Mighty Lonesome Man”. And both “The Drought” And “Old Man Henry” carry the populist like social commentary found in a Luke the Drifter recording. But none of these would really sound good on a Hank/Luke album. True, James wears a Hank influence on his sleeve, but these songs are unique enough to show that they aren’t just “Hank-like”.
A Lefty Frizzell influence is found in the lyrics and phrasing of “You’re An Angel”, “Please Me When You Can”, and “Now Not Later”. But like the songs discussed before, these only seem a bit like something Lefty would cut. Hand’s authentic delivery leaves you know doubt they’re his own.
“You Were With Me Then”, “Years I’ve Been Loving You”, and “Favorite Fool” reflect a bit of the Ernest Tubb school of honky-tonk. But they just hint of the Texas Troubadour.
By the time you try to find a way to compare “My Witness”, “Lesson In Depression” and “You Almost Fell” to something of the past, it becomes even more clear why finding his influences and comparing him to others is so difficult. While at times, you may hear some Hank, some Lefty, some Ernest Tubb, or even a bit of Johnny Horton, you hear something more.
If anything, James Hand is cut from the cloth as those of the past. His uniqueness, and authenticity, is similar to those of a bygone era. A time when trends didn’t matter, and voices weren’t celebrated for their commonness. It was when the truth, that the only commonality among us is our individuality, manifested itself in art.
And I think it’s safe to say that in our heartbreaks and sorrows, and our happiness we find where we are alike. Of course, the modern era has us putting the cart before the horse, as we seek commonalities to define ourselves.
Why is the current Country Top 40 so bad? Because it only reflects the here and now, and that is precisely why most everyone goes to Starbucks without asking if the coffee is any good. Seeking the commonalities in the blandness of Starbucks is much the same as Little Big Town having a hit with “Pontoon”. They both are born of sameness.
But with an artist like Hand, you have someone speaking in their own terms and in their own way. When he tells you he’s hurting, you believe it, rather or not you and he are in any way similar. It is fitting that the only cover on this disc is a Johnny Cash cover. The punk rock circles always appreciated Johnny Cash for his individuality that was so pure. In that way that Cash was a communicator, and there was never a question of his authenticity, Hand is the same.
There is a seldom seen power in each of his recordings, and I believe every word and emotion conveyed. No, his struggle is not mine, but I know he struggles and I’m sure he knows we all do. And as acclaimed as his other recordings have been, this is arguably his finest. Mighty Lonesome Man is nothing but raw Country Music at its most pure.