When you see pictures of Paul Cauthen wearing a cowboy hat, you would probably assume that he is a country artist. You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. However on the new album Room 41 (Lightning Rod Records), he shows that he doesn’t fit the mold of Nashville country.
“Holy Ghost Fire” kicks off the album and it’s pretty easy to notice the vocal similarity to Waylon Jennings in this moody song that sounds a bit like something from the Tom Waits catalog. Another similarity to Waylon Jennings is the way Cauthen tells a story in his songs. The beginning of “Prayed for Rain” is stark with just vocals and Cauthen picking an acoustic guitar. The song builds with a bass line by Beau Bedford, an electric guitar part by Jason Burt and backing vocals that bring something of a gospel feel to the song. You definitely feel it when he sings about praying for rain only to see it turn to hail.
It’s not easy to classify this album. Part of the reason for that is that you can’t really predict what you’re getting from one song to the next. “Big Velvet” is a great example. Austin Jenkins (guitar) and Burt (bass) bring a little funk to the song as do the backing vocalists Cherish Robinson, Keite Young, Jordache Grant, and Nae Callahan. You also hear some funk in “Freak”. From the bass to the guitar, to the B3 and the saxophone by Jeff Dazey, there is a lot of funk in both the melody and the rhythm of this song. What’s interesting is that the funky instrumentation goes so well with the moody vocals.
“Give ‘Em Peace” is another song that you don’t see coming. The beginning of the song has the feel of beat poetry with Cauthen speaking while fingers snap in the background. As the song moves along, the spoken-word parts sound like classic Tom Waits while the lyrics are a prayer for peace and the backing vocals are like a church choir.
This isn’t so much an album as it is a wide-ranging musical journey. He takes you through country, soul, funk, and gospel, and manages to bring it all together seamlessly. This is a rare album that would be just as good for a calm Sunday morning as a road trip through the desert. Room 41 will be released on September 6. Order your copy here.