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James Hand

Mighty Lonesome Man – 2012 (Hillgrass Bluebilly)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by James Hand

Texas-born singer and songwriter James Hand might be the first to laugh at making himself the subject of an old joke, the punch line of which would go something like, "It only took James Hand 40 years to become an overnight (cult) sensation." After decades as an underappreciated legend on the Lone Star honky-tonk circuit his breakthrough 2006 release "The Truth Will Set You Free" transformed him into a cult figure, only reinforced by the follow-up, "Shadow On The Ground." On "Mighty Lonesome Man" he continues to shine as one of the pre-eminent poets of heartache, love lost and love never realized.

By now, it's almost a cliche to compare Hand to Hank Williams, but it's not a stretch to carry the comparison a step further to another Texan, the great writer Leon Payne, whose catalog included tunes like Lost Highway that helped in no small part to fuel Hank's career. Hand's lyrics and arrangements on tracks like Lesson In Depression, Years I've Been Loving You and You Were With Me Then go straight back to the jukeboxes that dotted the Texas landscape of the '40s and '50s, and his simple, straightforward whiskey-flavored vocals echo "renegade" singers of years gone by from Hank Thompson to Merle Haggard, maybe even to Townes Van Zandt. And with all that, he shows a talent for telling a pretty good story on Old Man Henry, a modern-day victim of eminent domain.

If tired of the slickness and sheer volume of modern Nashville, do yourself a favor, set the Wayback Machine for 1950, and give yourself a helping Hand.