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James Hand set his music free

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., July 25, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

James Hand has had his ups and downs personally and professionally. Few had ever heard of the Texas honky tonker and former truck driver and horse trainer outside of his native state until he served up his Rounder Records debut, "The Truth Will Set You Free," in February 2006, which received deservedly positive reviews.

Hand also benefited from an extensive touring schedule since then, including a second strong outing at this club before a few hundred people mid-week.

Hand writes a lot of his own material, often about sad side of life. One gets the distinct sense that Hand may have lived a good part of what he sings about or at least has direct knowledge of it. He played just about every song on "The Truth..." with enough diversity to keep it interesting throughout the two sets.

Obvious influences included Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Hand often held his notes when he sang, usually employing a quiver or hiccup in his phrasing for added effect.

About the only negative was playing "In The Corner, At The Table, By The Jukebox" twice, though it sounded fine both times.

That could be because this was not a one-man show. In introducing his three-piece backing band, Hand said, "This is not a band. These are my friends."

That may be the case, but if they were only musicians, that would be great as well. The standout time and time and time again was guitarist Will Indian. He was precise whether going for a honky tonk, twangy sound or more disposed towards a rockabilly bent. Indian, a New York native, was neither showy, nor wasteful in his playing. He truly added a lot to the songs. Bassist Speedy Sparks and drummer John McGlothlin formed a solid rhythm section as well with McGlothlin generally using a snare and brushes to make his point. In other words, like just about everything else this evening, less proved more.

Hand was absolutely appreciative of the crowd and just about everything else that has gone right with his career in the past few years. At 55, chances are he is not headed for superstardom, but that probably wouldn't matter to this humble performer. Just give him the chance to play his songs and do his thing on stage, and he is quite happy. Based on this night, the crowd would be also.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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