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Quick Spin: Review of James Hand's Honky-Tonk 'Shadow on the Ground'

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009


James Hand

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James Hand has long been Texas's best-kept secret. The 57-year-old didn't release his national debut until 2006, though he's been performing for more than 40 years (in between stints as a truck driver and horse trainer). He's returned with his second album for roots label Rounder Records. Equal parts wry humor, frank honesty and gut-wrenching heartbreak, "Shadow on the Ground" is a reminder of how good country music can be, especially when it's sung by a man who "always drinks, seldom thinks and never gives a damn."

Here he covers a vast amount of traditional ground, from the trucker ballad "Midnight Run" to the joyous gospel tune "Men Like Me Can Fly." The album isn't all highways, heartaches and hangovers, though: Hand is probably the only guy who can get away with singing a honky-tonk barnburner -- about a pet bird and the strangely codependent relationship the two share -- with a combination of absurdity and pathos reminiscent of Roger Miller. All songs on "Shadow" are written by Hand except for the pop standard "Mona Lisa," which is transformed into a West Texas dancehall shuffle. Joint producers Ray Benson (frontman of western swing outfit Asleep at the Wheel, who also lends his guitar to "Mona Lisa") and the legendary producer-guitarist Lloyd Maines keep the album's sound firmly within the musical realm of fellow Texans Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson. If Hand had been born a few decades earlier, he'd have been right at home sharing a stage with those greats.

-- Juli Thanki

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Don't Depend on Me," "Men Like Me Can Fly," "The Parakeet"

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