Paul Cauthen sings with a bellowing low voice that falls somewhere between Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. This factor alone makes his music worth our immediate attention. He’s like an iconic icon, times two. His EP Have Mercy features seven bona fide traditional country songs, which also raise important social issue questions.
The project’s lead off track -- and one that Rolling Stone Magazine featured -- is called “Everybody Walkin’ This Land” and is both rewarding and troubling. Rewarding because it’s a country song with the guts to call out racists, fascists, nihilists and bigots. Country folk are sometimes closely associated with the very people Cauthen puts down. It’s troubling, though, in that it’s more than a little self-righteous to put these odious people in their place. To counter that simplistic impression, Cauthen adds, “I’ve felt your hurt, drank your fear,” empathetically. Yes, it’s oftentimes necessary to point out evil people. However, one must wonder if this laundry list of evil doers will change anybody’s heart and mind. He’s likely only preaching to the choir, at this point in his career.
The aforementioned song is particularly ironic when Cauthen tells another that he/she is not the first person to tell him how to live his life on the project’s title track. After which, he begs for mercy. Does he believe in giving the misguided miscreants listed in “Everybody Walkin’ This Land” this same mercy? We live in a morally complicated world. So, how does one balance grace and mercy with necessary judgement? Have Mercy may make you ask yourself some difficult questions, which is always a compliment to any recorded music.
Kudos to Paul Cauthen for not just making his natural singing voice the lone attraction to this new effort. You can listen to this project and bask in its fine traditional country sonic, or grapple with the moral questions it poses. The choice is yours.