Room 41 (Lightning Rod Records)
Reviewed by Tim Stegall, Fri., Sept. 20, 2019
As one half of short-lived but highly acclaimed indie roots duo Sons of Fathers, Paul Cauthen grew accustomed to wrapping hard truths in gorgeous Everly Brothers harmonies and music from the Big Pink. Their weight felt more substantial than more celebrated like-minds like Mumford & Sons. Going solo with 2016's My Gospel, Cauthen steered hard into country with an outlaw take far more authentic than the hip-hop odes that Nashville vomits onto the radio these days.
Or is that retching sound coming from those of us with any taste?
In Room 41, Cauthen now gets funky. Borne of a lengthy dark night of the soul in the titular suite of Dallas' Belmont Hotel – which means he might well have resided just down the hall from Mr. & Mrs. Alejandro Escovedo – 10 songs have emerged, proving that some artists excel under a "drink yourself stupid all night/write and record between sips/crash at noon/repeat" regimen more so than others. Not surprisingly, the local singer admits this routine resulted in more than one hospital stay.
Kids, definitely do not try this at home!
The self-destruction sounds soooo good, though. Somehow, Room 41 writes a new chapter in the country-soul book, as his idiosyncratic and gravelly smooth baritone rides grooves that get on the good foot beneath the twang. "Cocaine Country Dancing" could be Prince. "Holy Ghost Fire" resembles Gnarls Barkley. Then "Angel" builds like an epic, widescreen Roy Orbison ballad produced by Phil Spector. "Prayed for Rain," meanwhile, begins like a drawling cousin to the Beatles' "Blackbird," yet the lyrics plead for a little more empathy and a little less ego:
"'Cause all my friends, we were born survivors.
And every time I close my eyes, I'm dreamin' 'bout tomorrow.
Ya know, some things will never change.
I think about it when I pray for rain."
By the time the final "Lay Me Down" rolls in on a bed of churchy piano chords, gospel choir, and ethereal steel guitar, you feel wrung out, dried up, and ready for bed after a night of John Barleycorn, nicotine, and the Devil's dandruff.