Album Review: James Hand — Mighty Lonesome Man

Juli Thanki | January 14th, 2013

jameshandlonesomeJames Hand spent most of his career as Texas’ best kept secret. These days, the 60-year old might be one of its best exports. New record Mighty Lonesome Man (his first in three years and first for Hillgrass Bluebilly Records) is another collection of traditional country that sounds as though it dates back decades.

Hand, although not the most technically skilled singer, is an expressive and powerful one. His plaintive baritone channels Sun-era Johnny Cash on a frenetic cover of “Get Rhythm” and quavers its way through Ray Price-esque ballads like “Years I’ve Been Loving You.” He’s backed by a collection of top-notch musicians on Mighty Lonesome Man, with Earl Poole Ball (Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins) delivering stellar piano on “Favorite Fool” and the footstomper “Now Not Later” and Cindy Cashdollar contributing lap steel and Dobro, while the shuffling “Lesson in Depression” showcases fine pedal steel work by Gary Carpenter.

Though Hand has always been an astute writer, Mighty Lonesome Man includes some of the strongest songwriting of his career: “Old Man Henry,” by far the longest track on the album at over five minutes, is a stunning story song about a man’s struggle to save his land, and “The Drought” conjures up a scene so vivid you can almost taste the dust as Hand grits out, “For the past six weeks in a row/Not a creek or river flowed/Nothing but the driving wind and the choking heat and dust/I’ve watched all my fields be stripped of all their yields/And I spit upon the ground in my disgust.”

It’s a shame that it took so long for Hand to become known outside of Texas (it wasn’t until Rounder Records released The Truth Will Set You Free in the mid-2000s that Hand’s music was nationally distributed). But with Mighty Lonesome Man, he’s sure making up for lost time.

4 Stars

Preview or purchase Mighty Lonesome Man

  1. Keith Mallette
    January 14, 2013 at 9:36 am

    beautiful review and THANK YOU so much Engine 145!

  2. suzy
    January 14, 2013 at 10:02 am

    The man oozes down home, earthy realness. I’m glad he’s getting the respect he so deserves.

  3. Rick
    January 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Juli wrote: “Hand, although not the most technically skilled singer, is an expressive and powerful one.” Uh-oh, yet another Texas singer-songwriter that does far better at writing than singing. Thanks for the red flag warning…

  4. Jackiesue Roycroft Denney
    January 14, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    James is the pride and joy of West, Tours, Leroy and Tokio, Texas..he is our own…and he is getting recognized for what we’ve all known for years..he is what country stands for and sings it like it should be sung.

  5. Jack Williams
    January 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Rick leaves out this fron Juli’s following sentence:

    “His plaintive baritone channels Sun-era Johnny Cash on a frenetic cover of “Get Rhythm””

    I wonder if anyone ever thought Townes Van Zandt’s or Guy Clark’s singing channeled Johnny Cash.

  6. Barry Mazor
    January 14, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Hand has little to do with the ” 3-name Texas singer-songwriter’ notion and everything to do with traditional honky tonk.

  7. Greg Hendrix
    January 14, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Wake up Rick. Open your ears before your mouth.

  8. Greg Hendrix
    January 14, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    He is an amazing singer and has everything to do with songwriting. There is no comparison living. He is definitely the best singer in “honky tonk”, but is an icon due to his writing.

  9. Deb Perry
    January 14, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    Thanks for the 4-star review Juli!!! I appreciate your kudos on my freshman production project!! And even though James’ voice may not be ‘technically skilled’….at least we didn’t have to auto-pitch him in the studio (unlike some chart toppers out of Nashville!)to make these songs their best.

    I knew the first time I heard OLD MAN HENRY that we had to cut it on an album – what a great story!! And THE DROUGHT is so timely and well versed that we couldn’t leave that one off either. As the producer, I picked out most of these songs (even though, at first, James thought his best songs went on his two Rounder albums), so I’m so glad to hear you think – as I did – that these songs exhibit some of his strongest writing. James and I are so proud of this album, and so happy that it is being so well received in the music community around the world!!

    And yes, Cindy Cashdollar and Earl Poole Ball were a feather in the cap that gave this James Hand album the timeless honky-tonk sound that I was determined to bring out, and one which we’ve longed to hear in his music.

    Keep up the great writing, and from James and I to you…THANK YOU A LOT!!

  10. Marco
    January 15, 2013 at 9:50 am

    My James Hand story/introduction:

    I was in Nashville last month, and I visited Ernest Tubb Record Shop. I decided to buy a Whitey Morgan record, and the cashier asked me if I had heard of James Hand. I thanked him for the recommendation. As I walked out, the cashier says, “The truth will set you free.” As I browsed James Hand’s albums on Amazon, I realized that this was the name of one of his albums. I purchased it, and I’ve been hooked ever since. From the moment I heard “Banks of the Brazos,” I became amazed that this kind of music was still being made today.

    I was planning on purchasing “Mighty Lonesome Man” after I had given “The Truth Will Set You Free” its time. This review increases my excitement for that purchase. Another online review reads, “‘Old Man Henry’ might be the best song you hear all year long.” It’s a relief to know this style of songwriting is still relevant.

  11. JAck Williams
    January 15, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Marco, in addition to Mighty Lonesome Man, James Hand’s second Rounder release (Shadows on the Ground) is a winner, too. I bought it very quickly after I got and fell in love with The Truth Will Set You Free.

  12. TX Music Jim
    January 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Rick, listen to anything by James Hand. You will discover your undeducated assumption is truly flawed and just plain wrong. If you like tradtional contry music James Hand is the real deal period !

  13. Jon
    January 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Well, he certainly has some enthusiastic fans, anyhow.

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