James Hand – The Authenticity Country Music Yearns For

February 19, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  35 Comments

Authenticity seems to be that elusive ingredient everyone is searching for in real country. Embedded in every real country music fan is this nagging idea that somewhere out there is a treasure trove of country music waiting to be discovered. Somewhere, someplace, there’s a lonely man plugging away in some honky tonk, sweat beading across his brow and a life’s worth of pain behind his songs, who couldn’t hide his authenticity if he tried; a true country legend waiting to be discovered.

Meanwhile an army of country artists attempting to channel that vibe through song and presentation clog the consciousnesses by only being able to re-create the envy of this authenticity at best; their scars simple cosmetic treatments without the stories to go with them, their accents effected, the fray in their voice a fraud. Hollywood casts the role over and over under the false notion that fiction is the only answer to this yearning for the authentic country legend still lurking in the shadows, when the whole time the man they’ve been looking for has been sitting right under their nose in a little town in Texas called “West”, carrying the name James Hand.

You could say he looks like Tommy Lee Jones and sounds like Hank Williams, but comparing artists with others is a tool I’ve found that only needs to be implemented when an artist lacks their own originality. I would just say James Hand is like James Hand, wholly unique, yet hauntingly familiar in the way his songs seem like they were written just for you and sound like old memories, and how his presence warms the soul. Or you could just listen to Willie Nelson who says it both succinctly and completely, “James Hand is the real deal!”

And the real deal is James Hand in the way his dark eyes seem to dam back 1,000 tears that instead come flowing out through his masterful songcraft. It is impossible to be more authentic than James Hand. But he doesn’t use the fact that his parents were rodeo folks and he spent years in that trade and trained horses for lots of his life as some country music commodity to trade for street cred. It simply was his life, and all he knew. He doesn’t use his stint in prison to bolster his bravado of how “Outlaw” he is, he uses it to show his humility as he did in an interview with NPR:

There are people in this business that play that up. “Aw man, I did this, and I did that.” Well, I want to tell you a little story about that. Everybody wants to know an Outlaw, but nobody wants to be an Outlaw. If a guy has a problem, he’s not gonna wear it on his sleeve because he doesn’t want anybody to know. If he’s an Outlaw he’s not gonna tell anybody because he doesn’t want anybody to know. The louder that people say they had a drug problem, or they went to prison, or that they’re an Outlaw, the less they probably did it, and the less that anybody with any kind of class wants to hear it.

Now if somebody asks me about it, I’ll be forthright and honest about it, yes. But if somebody doesn’t ask me about it, I don’t call a publicist and say, “Play this up.” Yeah, play this up because I went to prison and broke everybody’s heart in my family and a lot of my best friends.

A good place to get started with James Hand’s music is Rounder Records’ The Truth Will Set You Free! from 2006. It is a cornerstone of Texas country music and a proverbial lesson in country songwriting. Produced by Texas legends Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel and Lloyd Maines, and featuring Redd Volkaert and Will Indian on guitar, this is a timeless piece of Texas country music culture that culls years of songwriting from James Hand’s life and encapsulates it in his first major release.

James is currently in the studio working on a new album that will be out later this year.

Preview & Purchase Tracks from The Truth Will Set You Free!

35 Comments to “James Hand – The Authenticity Country Music Yearns For”

  • those are good words to hear. this is greatness – the article and the man

  • These kinds of discoveries are what keep hope for this music alive. Love it.

  • stellar write and a stellar artist. another home run! he just might replace ‘some velvet evening’ in my ride’s CD player. loved ‘in the corner, at the table, by the jukebox’, and ‘when you stopped loving me, so did i’. thanks, trig.

  • I picked up some James Hand when I was in Austin 2 years ago. My friend who lives there suggested him and said he was really popular with lots of folks there. It was a great suggestion as it’s not really her genre at all, she’s more of a navel-gazing-alternative-power-pop gal. It’s in my car at the moment and I shall listen to it as I traverse the mean streets of sunny Auckland today in my Toyota Corolla Windy. I just realised he bears a striking resemblance to my paternal grandfather too.

  • Awesome! It’s nice to see a write up on James. They don’t come much finer than Slim.

  • I looked him up when I saw the xsxsw line-up, and he was one of my favorites. I’m excited to see him down in Austin.

  • great feature Trig, I will share it with everyone I know!

  • This is a great credit to music brother, beautifully written and wonderfully shared.

  • Damn.. I would’ve printed this on the front page of the Rambler!

  • that quote of his really needs to be read aloud to some of these new self titled “outlaws” in todays country music, and not just the newer crappy shit like eric church and justin moore they play on the radio but to guys like bob wayne and hank 3 as well. goin around callin yourself an outlaw IS NOT being an outlaw. james hand as willie said is the real deal. good stuff man

    • I think we should all try to learn something from that quote. I know I am. There’s a lot of wisdom there beyond country music or “Outlaws”. It’s also interesting to note he said that in 2006, way before Music Row’s crop of “new Outlaws”.

      • i agree 100% with you on how we should all learn something from that quote. the part where hes talking about playing it up “yeah, play this up because i went to prison and broke everyones heart in my family and my best friends” is just so real. you dont hear that often, guys use prison time for some sort of “street cred” in life but more so in music where they think they can sell more albums if everybody thinks they are some sort of tough guy. i wish more people had his perspective on life.

    • Excellent take Randy. Calling it both ways. Love it.

  • That was a Badass article Triggerman. Your writing abilities really amaze me at times.

    I am very embarrassed to say I had never listened to James Hand until now. Thank you for this preview.

  • After all the conflict in the comments section of late, I think you got something here that no one can disagree with. Great article Triggerman

  • It’s about damn time more people find out about this great artist. ‘Just a Heart’ reminds me of the days of Hank Williams Sr. This man is up there with ol’ Hank.

  • The radio interview is fantastic as well with gems like “some people pray for water, and some people dig a well”.

    This all ties into the piece you wrote about music and the reshaping of the American dream. Step 1 is getting back to the basics, and part of that is recognizing pure talent without auto-tune and a corporation telling you it’s great. As much as I love tech, there’s also such beauty and perfection in a talented songwriter with a guitar.

    I can’t wait to check him out on SCM Live next month in the XSXSW show!

    • Hey Gillian…. thanks for followin through and listenin to the NPR snippit.

  • This “Outlaw” shit has got to stop at some point. It was a marketing gimmick for Waylon and Willie, the term wasn’t authentic to begin with. It’s great to hear someone like James Hand. He just blows the whole outlaw notion out of the water.

    • Chad, like many things, the mis-understanding lies in ignorrance of a topic.

      The term “Outlaw” as used by Waylon and Willie was a play on words. The way they made music was not by the letter of the “law” when it came to Nashville record standards, nothing to due with actual crime. But of course they did do their fair share of illegal drugs and hanging with some unsavory types, and that got the attention law enforcement. Which is where Waylon came up with “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Gotten Out Of Hand”. Basically saying, don’t you have better shit to do than bother us musicians smoking pot, (and snorting some coke.) We aren’t killing anyone.

      The “Outlaw” ways of guys like Hank3 and Bob Wayne cross it up a bit. They took it to a point of making music their way, following the Waylon lead, but then they really played up the druggin part. Mostly for image and song of course. Living on the road strung out isn’t outlaw, it is drifter maybe… but far from Outlaw.

      Then you got the guys that come along in the past 3-5yrs. They think Outlaw means drinking beer in your truck and wearing an Affliction T-shirt.

      Guys like James Hand are talking about the true meaning of Outlaw. Something very few people actually know, and none want to experience.

  • Here’s a statement from Mr. Hand about the honky-tonks he’s working.

    • Hey Mr Ekstrom, that was a GREAT read on Hand on Honky Tonks. I read it a while back! HOLY COW, I just went and combed through your pictures. They are great! Someone was tellin me about Joshua Wilkins Black photography, which I like a lot, but YOURS really speak to me man. So…… when you comin to take pictues of James Hand’s for his new album????

  • Thanks for writing this really good read. I’ve had a James Hand station on Pandora for a while now and this article convinced me it’s time to make a purchase.

  • Thanks for this great article on one of the “real” country artists out there.

    I stumbled on to Mr. Hand sort of by accident. He was playing a festival I was attending and the festival booklet review of him inspired me to check him out.

    I was immediately hooked. Even though I wasn’t around back in those days, I imagine the early days of country/western shows must have been similar to watching his show. I felt like I was taken back decades…and loved every minute of it. I’ve since purchased his albums and have seen him three times.

  • Great words & there’s always been lost talent never make there high we just got to open are ears & lend that passing love between musician’s to Be Heard! & thank good we got web now. some of us outlaws do a littel hiding ,poping in & out all over Mo like Jesse James saying stick to your roots always be open to new styels of playing & listening to tunes & suport live music walk ride team up make a pack to bus go see all off us.

  • found Mr. Hand on Facebook when Hank3 posted a video of him performing.
    amazing and classy.

    • James had told me that, and STILL wants to thank 3 for it. Ive tried writing 3 to tell him, but no response… so if any y’all have the redline, tell him James said thanks…and wants to thank him personally..

  • Slim! Good stuff. I sure wish I had found him years ago instead of months ago but better late then never. Thanks for helping me long Keith!

  • great article…..When I first heard Jame’s Hand I was instantly taken back to summer early mornings at my Grandparents house In North Carolina. They started each day with a local country music station on the radio as they cooked breakfast together in the kitchen. I slept on their living room couch so I would always wake to bacon cooking and those old country songs that still stand the test of time today. It seems as if it’s hard to find much of anything that is truly authentic anymore. I think Willie was right when he said Jame’s was ” the real deal ” and It’s not just the sound of his songs , it’s the truth from which he sings. He does it from the heart and it shows ……pure and simple.

  • We certainly appreciate all the comments on James!!! Thanks so much for listening and loving his music like so many of us. If you want to support James and his music, please visit his website at http://www.jameshand.com. You can purchase CD’s and other merchandise. His new album on Hillgrass Bluebilly Records will be out soon!!!

  • Good article. That’s exactly what “Country Music” has been lost on.

  • I love this article. Im glad there is people still trying to show the authentic voice of the human soul. People are just becoming like the music industry. Just plastic personalities. I cant wait to order all his albums and hopefully get to see him in Austin, March 17, if SXSW tickets does not monopolize the show, only allowing people who pay the 750$ tickets go in. I m also tired of the Hank 3 haters out there. If it weren’t for people like him to allow people to be aware of underground country I would not heard of the likes of Joey Allcorn and Ray Lawrence jr. I think Ray Lawrence jr is another man who speaks of real life struggles from his own personnel sufferings. I always tell people of his story before showing anyone his music.

  • James hand belongs on the mount Rushmore of country beside hank sr, Johnny cash and Willie.
    There is nothing better in this world than to dance with a pretty girl at the broken spoke while James hand is on the stage.

    • that quote deserves to be on the Mount Rushmore of quotes….. thanks!

  • I created a fb page to help save real country music.To preserve real country music we have to do a few things such as: create a following so producers know the demand is there, we have to buy cds from the real country artist out there, alert each other when a real country artist emerges and support them, and we have to make some noise! Please help me in doing so by telling all your friends that also love real country music to join this page and be proactive! Go to facebook/saverealcountrymusic

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