Chuck Hawthorne purveys the tattered and timeless passion of a weary western troubadour, one who's spent one too many nights nursing a beer at the bar and seeking solace in the eyes of indifferent strangers. There are any number of familiar touchstones - the somber and sobering sentiments of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Don Williams, Mickey Newbury, John Stewart, Tom Russell, and any number of other so-called renegades who have ventured well beyond the bounds of commercial country. They circle these melodies like solemn spirits lingering in the ethos, imbuing these tunes with a stark humanity that's both plentiful and passionate.
Despite the fact that the aptly named "Fire Out of Stone" is only Hawthorne's sophomore set, it sounds remarkably weathered and resolute. Dominated by rugged ballads, it finds Hawthorne sharing a series of heart-wrenching tales - a biker's final ride ("Such is Life"), a veteran trying to piece together his life ("New Lost Generation"), the last stand taken by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce ("I Will Fight No More Forever"), a shattered life in a West Texas town ("Amarillo Wind") - and doing so with an indomitable attitude and unflinching honesty that's well worthy of his subjects. The delivery is both defiant and determined, but beneath it all lies a sensitive soul intent on sharing these stories with the world.
Needless to say, Hawthorne's a stoic singer and songwriter, uncommonly independent, but well versed in life's ever tangled tapestry. His songs easily get under the skin and then linger there long after the final notes fade away. He's a thinking man's minstrel, unconcerned with commercial credence or the latest example of regurgitated radio fare. Even so, "Fire Out of Stone" has all the makings of a contemporary classic, a journeyman's diary that embodies a full degree of astute observation.
Lee Zimmerman is a freelance writer and author based in Maryville, Tenn. He also expounds on music on his web site, Stories Beyond the Music - Americana Music Reviews, Interviews & Articles. His book - Americana Music - Voices, Visionaries and Pioneers of an Honest Sound - is available from Texas A&M University Publishing.