It's not necessary to have stepped foot in a church recently to find true pleasure in James "Slim" Hand's latest effort, a 14-song gospel album on which he wrote or co-wrote everything. There is delight to be found in the ease of Hand's vocals, which slide capably between joy and mournfulness, and his words, charged by the Holy Spirit and the ghost of Hank Williams.
Just as with his secular work, Hand writes vivid, deceptively simple songs that quickly have their way with you but linger long afterward. "Baby's Promise" features understated piano work by Floyd Domino (the equally great former Johnny Cash piano man Earl Poole Ball also appears) and terrific imagery with lines like, "In the center of your heart where goodness never dies, God has placed a magic harp with a pony that really flies." The upbeat "My Savoir as My Guide" is further enlivened by Cindy Cashdollar's Beard resonator guitar. Hand is at his most honky tonkiest on "Devil Ain't No Quitter," which offers, "The devil ain't no quitter, I'll sure give him that, when he's my babysitter, I don't wonder where he's at."
A few songs have appeared elsewhere in Hand's catalog, including the album-ending "Men Like Me Can Fly" from 2009's "Shadow on the Ground." Other standouts include the opener "Why Oh Why," highlighted by Brennen Leigh's mandolin picking, the modern hymnal-ready "Lord Above," and the hopeful, good-natured "No One Ever Dies," which features some of Hand's strongest vocals. An inspiring and entertaining effort that will thrill believers and non-believers.