Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Hey. If anyone's in town, or coming into town, for the big Tom Waits show (August 9th!!!), let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). I lack the funds and/or corporate sponsorship to host some kind of official Tom Waits pre-show party or whatnot, but I work right around the corner from the Auditorium Theatre and plan on having a few beverages at a nearby drinking parlour to be determined before the big event. Anyone who wants to join in and form a wee unofficial Waits-fest are welcome. Let me know, and I'll get some kind of announcement as the date nears.
Now. Mr. James Hand.
I had a really hard time narrowing down two songs from James Hand's album, The Truth Will Set You Free, to post here. So I cheated, and am giving you three. And, frankly, this is the second best album I've heard all year (more on ole number 1 shortly). I guarantee you're gonna see this album again on this site sometime in late December.
I've spent way too much time bemoaning the lack of great, classic, honky tonk country music being made in these here modern times. Sure, there's plenty of that there insurgent stuff filtering through the haze, some of which I'm quite keen on, but it often has too much of a nudge and wink, we're really punk rock but we like ol' Hank quality to it. Country as an excuse or a clever tool. Some of the current darlings of alt.country(who cares what that is) are so completely bland that they barely make for wallpaper. But James Hand....well, damn. No pretense, no irony, no sly slight of hand (hah! sorry). It's honky tonk country through and through. Perhaps it's his age (53), or four decades of working the bar'n'singing circuit. Regardless, Hand has laid down one of the finest country records I've heard in a long, long while. Writing about music always requires a modicum of hyperbole, but I'm not being coy about this one. This is the real deal, a genuine long player worthy of the wax (aluminum) it's pressed (lazered?) on.
A native Texan and horse trainer(?!?), Hand finely drags the soul of Honky Tonk out of retirement, taking a staid and cliche-ridden form and molding it into something both exciting and uniquely Hand's own. From the creepy, brilliant "Shadows Where the Magic Was", with the refrain "....who can tell what the devil does, when he walks on haunted ground" (Frank's Wild Years fans take note), to the barroom lament of "In the Corner, At the Table, By the Jukebox", and every point between, this album hits on every note, every twang, every lyrical device. If this album had been recorded 30 years ago, we'd be whispering Hand's name in the same sentence as Lefty, Merle and Willie. As it stands, it will probably be lost to diffusion of taste. A fucking shame, really. I'd stand on the streetcorner with a bullhorn if I thought it would send the masses in a frenzy on a James Hand binge. But it'd all be show for nought, alas. Country's not dead, folks, it's hiding. How to wake the sleeping beast, strip it of pretense, and into a new golden age? Well, that last sentence was ridiculous, but that's what Hand's album does to me, sends me shivering and frothing at the mouth. Just when I think country's died on us (skewered by the dreaded "Americana"), Hand redeems an entire genre. He's more than worth your time. I think the word essential is overused. I'm going to apply it, in any case, to Mr. James Hand. It fits.
James Hand: Banks of the Brazos (mp3)
James Hand: In the Corner, At the Table, By the Jukebox (mp3)
James Hand: Shadows Where the Magic Was (mp3)
As ever, when your penny jar gets full, please consider supporting your local, independent record stores. Or buy direct from the artist, or their website.