James Hand Reviewed
Evil Things (Cold Spring)It all started with Hank Williams, didn't it? Sure, there was Jimmie Rodgers, Uncle Dave Macon, Vernon Dalhart, and other country stars from the Pleistocene era, but Hank really brought country music into the modern age. Every country singer worth his salt owes a debt to Hank the Elder; legions have aped his mannerisms and songwriting over the years. The comparisons between Hank and James Hand would be inevitable, as Hand has Hank's nervous, quavery yowl, similar melodies, and his lyrics speak of a trip or 20 down the lost highway. Those similes are all valid, but also shortchange a man whose talents stand on their own. Hand's haunted lyrics call up a hillbilly hell on earth, a place where broken hearts lie by the side of the Interstate and get squashed by l8-wheelers, a world where the beer joints never close, the house lights never come up, and "happy hour" is anything but. Produced by Dave Biller (who also shares lead guitar duties with Dale Watson), this is strong stuff indeed. The pain in songs like "A Night Like Any Other" and "Last River To Cross" is almost palpable, while even the more upbeat numbers like "Baby Baby Baby (Don't Tell Me That)" are still pretty scathing. The depth of emotion in Hand's world-weary voice and hexed lyrics is something that clean-scrubbed Texas songwriters of the Pat Green/Owen Temple/Jack Ingram school could never touch; it's like comparing Coors Light to a bottle of Redeye. At some point Robert Johnson's hellhounds started down James Hand's trail and followed him all the way to Hank Williams' door. The result is this CD: black as India ink, real as a bad hangover, and country as a chicken coop. Hand shows that it's possible to be derivative and original at the same time, as he takes the time-honored Hank Sr. style and makes it into something totally his own.