Paul Cauthen Emerges From 'Room 41'

Photo: Anna Webber / Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Room 41 showcases Paul Cauthen's continued growth as an innovative country artist who isn't afraid to take risks.

Room 41
Paul Cauthen

Lightening Rod

6 September 2019

Paul Cauthen describes himself as a formerly profligate individual who has now returned to the fold on the first-person narratives from his latest album, Room 41, whose title refers to the hotel room in Dallas where he lived in during his most dissolute period. Cauthen's reformation doesn't mean he has forgotten the allure of his past sinful behavior. The best parts of the record are when Cauthen describes his uncontrolled actions, which leads one to love the sin and hate the sinner. He's both the prodigal son and the faithful and jealous older brother, and who wouldn't prefer to hear the stories of the rebel kid.

The best songs are the ones that burn with brute passions, such as "Cocaine Country Dancing", "Can't Be Alone", and "Holy Ghost Fire"—that despite its name has more to do with to do with the physical love for a "sweet mama" than with spiritual desire. Cauthen has a full-sized bass voice, or as he describes it, a "Big Velvet" tone. There is something smooth in his delivery, no matter how loud he croons the lyrics. When Cauthen sings about his life being a train wreck, one truly feels the locomotive power of his voice. However, the explosive result is muted. He has arrived at the station of the cross instead of burning in a fiery hell.

Cauthen frequently invokes praying as a way to resolve one's inner conflicts. The ten tracks here could accurately be described as ten prayers. On the explicitly titled "Prayed for Rain", he describes himself and his friends as "born survivors". The pain of living is a given to Cauthen, but the fact is obscure. There's a difference between wanting a favorable future and living a happy life, and Cauthen doesn't make the distinction on this and the other cuts. The transformational quality of the "Prayed for Rain" saves it from being maudlin. He begins the song quietly, just him and a guitar, but before he's done, there's a choir of voices and a large musical accompaniment including pounding drums behind him. Cauthen knows he is not alone in being alone.

He identifies with the "freaks" of the world. Cauthen begins "Freak" with a spoken word introduction about the time he spent in jail for possession of marijuana. He finds he had more in common with those in the institution than he expected. They all had some sort of "big itch" that could not be scratched by obeying society's norms. The cultural hegemony did not satisfy instinctual needs. This is an old story, but Cauthen makes it fresh through the intensity of his deep-throated vocals. And when he finds that words alone won't do, he calls on electric guitarist Austin Jenkins to convey the emotion with a wah-wah guitar line. Before the song is over Cauthen is joined by a gospel chorus, a jazzy saxophone solo (Jeff Dazey), a churchy B3 (Jordache Grant), and other sonic trappings. Putting his voice in this context reveals Cauthen's awareness of his shared condition—we are all freaks.

Room 41 showcases Cauthen's continued growth as an artist. He uses his big velvet voice to great effect in various musical contexts here. The results can be flawed—the danger of experimentation—but this is also part of the charm. The least interesting parts of the record are the more generic sections, duh! But Cauthen is not afraid to take risks. Despite his proclamations to the contrary, he hasn't really found peace yet. Musically, this is to the listener's advantage.





The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

‘The Avengers’ Offer a Lesson for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.