James Hand Reviewed
The Truth Will Set You Free (Rounder)
It's impossible not to root for James Hand. The 53-year-old hard-luck crooner and horse trainer has been toiling in Central Texas honky-tonks since his teens, accruing a lifetime of heartbreak and perseverance that pays off handsomely on this "debut." In reality, Truth mixes new songs and re-recorded material from 1996's Shadows Where the Magic Was and 2000's Evil Things, but regardless, Hand's elevation to a nationally distributed label is long overdue. The man known as Slim is a true poet of despair, heard here on "When You Stopped Loving Me, So Did I" and "If I Live Long Enough to Heal," while "Shadows Where the Magic Was" is gothic country existentialism at its finest. Yet Truth is also riddled with frisky humor ("Little Bitty Slip") and even a happy ending or two ("Banks of the Brazos"). A recent CMT.com review actually took Hand to task for his strong vocal resemblance to Hank Williams, which is like criticizing a ballplayer for swinging like Ted Williams. Hank Sr. may have done it first, but Hand's doing it now. He imagines his epitaph on "Here Lies a Good Old Boy," but ol' Slim is a long way from six feet under.