James Hand

SXSW showcase reviews

Live Shots
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

James Hand

Saxon Pub, Friday, March 18

In roots music circles, there's a great deal of talk about authenticity. When it comes to the real deal, then, the conversation should end with James Hand from Tokio, Texas. Also known as "Slim," he saunters onstage all in white, including his boots and hat, and for the next 40 minutes it's difficult to be less than riveted by the way he curls his lip when he sings or the funny way he wiggles his hips. Hand's music is an amalgam of hillbilly and honky-tonk that was last popular in the 1950s, but he sings mostly his own songs, each one more heartbreaking than the last, with titles like "When You Stopped Loving Me, So Did I" and "Floor To Crawl." The mood changed a bit with a rockabilly ditty about his "Parakeet" and a Tex-Mex-tinged version of "Mona Lisa," a tune popularized by Nat King Cole. Those witnessing Hand for the first time always comment on his resemblance to Hank Williams, and to reinforce the image, he broke out "Cold Cold Heart" with an exaggerated tear in his voice. At set's end Slim earned a standing ovation, perhaps for being authentic, but more likely just for being himself.

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