REVIEW: Paul Cauthen’s “Have Mercy” Features Gorgeous Voice On Love and Redemption

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“Ain’t no grave,” Johnny Cash sang on one of his last recordings, “can hold my body down.”  The Man In Black was right. His spirit lives in the gorgeous baritone voice of Paul Cauthen, and in Cauthen’s gospel-inflected songwriting. Theirs is the gospel of love and redemption and rejoicing.  “We’re ripping each other apart out there, and forgiveness and mercy are what’s going to get us through,” says Cauthen. “I want to use my voice the best I can to spread that message while I’m here on this Earth.”  On Have Mercy (Lightning Rod Records), Cauthen does just that.

It’s worth reflecting for a moment on the gospel of love and redemption and rejoicing.  Gospel music has always reflected both that love and joy as well the fear of Hell and The Devil.  The Louvin Brothers’ Satan Is Real is as important in the history of country gospel as Johnny Cash.  Someone’s orientation toward one of these two poles often tells you a great deal about their personality and outlook.

On “Everybody Walkin’ This Land,” Cauthen addresses “believers, pretenders, bona fide sinners, no matter your church, your faith,” sending them a prayer to help them make it through it the day.    He calls out “racists, fascists, nihilists, and bigots,” telling them “your actions will not stand,” but he also tells them “we are praying for you, my friend.” Without being ham-handed, Cauthen manages, in a three-minute song, to convey the universality of strength and salvation through faith, as well as what it means it to have faith in a world full of the wicked and unfaithful.

Much, but not all of Cauthen’s album, is in this didactic mode. The soulful “Have Mercy” finds the protagonist pursued for wrong, though we never learn the details.  Cauthen sings, “The world will crumble if we don’t learn how to forgive.” To his fictional antagonist, he goes on, “I’d be lying if I said were you weren’t the first to tell me how to live.”  The upshot is, “Have mercy on me, I’ll have mercy on you.” We don’t need to know any more than the scenario that’s playing out and gets us top the moral of the story.

Cauthen worked extensively with three members of the prestigious country backing band, The Texas Gentlemen (Beau Bedford, Daniel Creamer, Nik Lee) on Have Mercy, not only as a backing band but as co-writers.  Cauthen shares writing credits on the EP with Bedford on “Everybody Walkin’ This Land” and “Resignation”, Creamer and Lee “Have Mercy” “and “My Cadillac”).  Additional co-writes are with David Beck (“Tumbleweed”) and Dan Dyer (“In Love With A Fool”). Bedford played the Mellotron, organ, and guitar, includisting acoustic 12-string; Creamer, the piano; Lee, electric and baritone guitar.  Additional instrumentalists included Kyle Craft on drums and percussion, Milon Deering on Dobro and guitar, Scott Edgar Lee, Jr. on bass, and McKenzie Smith on drums. Bedford also sang background vocals, as did Becky Middleton and Taylor Nicks. Get your copy here. http://www.paulcauthenmusic.com/

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