Paul Cauthen has a big, deep, rich voice which he attributes to his Church of Christ upbringing. He said there were are no microphones allowed in the assembly, so one had to sing loud. The church is undoubtedly present in his aptly named new release, My Gospel. The music rings out from an invisible pulpit, often accompanied by a choir of back-up singers, and calls out to the heavens above. That is true of the more overtly religious numbers, such as “Be Here Soon” as well as the more secular ones like “I’ll Be the One” where the spirit seems anything but holy.
Cauthen’s doing nothing new here. The mix of secular and gospel styles has been a part of popular music ever since the days of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, if not before. But authenticity is often overrated. Religious music can provide an overwhelming fount for musical inspiration. There’s nothing the matter with returning to the well one more time.
However, much of the music here seems overly dramatic and not worthy of its histrionic presentations. Too often Cauthen sings of the ordinary in dramatic ways that seem ill-suited to the content of the songs. Take the song “Saddle” for example, which concerns going through life as a loner. Cauthen spectacularly declares his loneliness and even starts howling with the wolves. The silence of the night would say more and speak more eloquently. Unfortunately, there are several cases of this on the album. The record, so to speak, is damning.
The best tracks here earn the melodramatics by invoking topics worthy of theatrics. Such as the case with the introspective “Grand Central Station” that captures teenage angst with studied intensity. Cauthen blames himself for his choices, but quietly acknowledges that the only person he ever really hurt was himself. The modesty deserves a powerful invocation because he doesn’t have to shout it as much as just admit he is responsible for his life choices. One doesn’t have to yell “Fire” to understand what in blazes in going on in the heart.
Cauthen’s personal gospel comes off as a belief in youthful innocence corrupted by the passage of time. His songs are rooted in the past. He might as well conjure witchcraft and superstition. What has happened has happened, and all the singing about it doesn’t bring it forward to the present or launch it into the future. As a result, the 11 cuts here betray the dullness of memory. One can only remember what happened rather than live in it. The songs have a static quality that suggests defeat. His narrators stay where they are and only know where they came from instead or looking ahead.
It’s the voice—that resonant instrument—that makes Cauthen worth hearing. He might be singing shibboleths more than making exciting pronouncements, but the potential for something exciting to happen is clear. He needs to do more than just be “Hanging Out on the Line”. Cauthen needs to believe in himself and where he’s headed. That’s not easy to do in the world of problems in which we live, but faith in (fill in the blank, whatever works for you) can work wonders.
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