Paul Cauthen understands the power of redemption. It’s tales of redemption — or the never ending search for it — that run through Cauthen’s debut full-length solo album, “My Gospel.”
Since his departure from the Americana duo Sons of Fathers, Cauthen did some serious soul-searching. He mined his Church of Christ upbringing in East Texas and hard won road stories to deliver an album of soulful truck stop hymnals.
The Austin-based singer was heavily influenced by his grandfather, a songwriter and gospel song leader in the Tyler, Texas church where Cauthen learned how to make his voice rise to the rafters. Cauthen’s booming baritone voice would sound right at home behind a pulpit. But he seems to find his salvation in other venues: train stations, desolate roads that cut across the West Texas desert and all-night roadside diners.
The album-opener “Still Drivin'” is thumping country-funk jam that sounds like lost Jerry Reed cut. It doubles as a truck driver’s anthem and a mantra for anyone struggling to achieve their dreams or just make this month’s rent.
Cauthen, who wrote or co-wrote every song on the album, weaves together stories of human relationships and how our decisions and personal demons impact those we love.
The soaring “As Young As You’ll Ever Be” was co-written with Cauthen’s friend and fellow songwriter Victor Holk a few months before Holk passed away from injuries suffered in a tragic house fire. It’s a song about both looking back and living in the moment. When Cauthen sings “My old man was wild as me, but tried to teach me better ’round 23,” he sounds like Waylon Jennings having a heart to heart with dear ol’ dad over a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Much of “My Gospel” feels like a journey through the American west. “Grand Central” is a travelers’ ruminations on life, a nod to the kind of clarity (and utter loneliness) you can only find on the road. “Marfa Lights” mixes romance with the mysterious glowing orbs that dance across the desert near the tiny Texas town of Marfa.
One of the albums highest points is “Saddle,” a wandering ramble through a desert dreamscape complete with coyote howls. By the time the horns kick in, you can almost see the credits scrolling down on Gary Cooper riding out of town in “High Noon.”
Cauthen travels from the west to the heart of southern soul and R&B in Muscle Shoals, Ala. for the gospel-tinged stand out track “Hanging Out on the Line.”
Paul Cauthen lays his soul bare on “My Gospel” and the result is one of the most powerful releases of the year.
“You should listen to the good news,” Cauthen sings on the healing title track. “This is my gospel, this is my truth.”
Cauthen’s truth is a testimony to staying true to your heart, finding beauty in your failures and having a hell of a time along the way. Amen to that.