Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Matt Oliver, Mastered by Sam Patlove
James Hand is not a big man. He's not tall and he's not packed many pounds on his body over his many decades. He's kind of stoop-shouldered and a little gaunt in the face, but he actually weighs more than any man you'll ever meet. Try to pick him up and you won't be able to lift him. It will feel as if you're trying to heave a mass the equivalent of a house. He's made up of a weight greater than a cemetery's worth of people. He's got leaden anvils sunken down and anchored in the bottoms of his feet. He's full of sin, guilt, a rotten conscious and all kinds of alcohol -- the latter as an attempt to deal with all of the preceding and its myriad of strangulating details. He's packed up tightly with his past. It, as a collection, is like having mice in your walls. You hear them awaken in the night and the rustle, they start moving and you hear them lightly scamper on the other sides of the light switches and up along the attic floor, sounding like an entire kindergarten class in those four tiny paws, up to God knows what at those hours. They eat at your insulation and just drive you crazy. The past will do that. Old loves -- the smoke of old loves -- will do that to an old man.
There's too much good coming out of the the messed up book that I'm currently reading by Barry Hannah, not to quote it again, in reference to the kind of man that it seems like Hand might be. Every character in the book is categorized by the narrator as living in CM (Contant Misery). It may as well be a medical term. It's in capital letters and it sounds like it's a pretty accurate diagnosis. Hannah writes, in "Ray," "People born on a bad wind just ride and take it." Oh, they might squirm some and fight it, but they decide that taking it's some kind of tolerable stalemate. Hand, a songwriter from the plains of Central Texas who's arguably on par with Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Bare, Willie Nelson and Guy Clark for pure country prowess and gift of language, has taken a lot and not much of it's felt good. Some has though and that's what keeps anyone's fire from burning completely out. He's most certainly been on the receiving end of love and it sounds as if he's not afraid of giving it either. He sings of pale moons and traveling down the lullaby trail, drifting both closer and further from sweethearts. He knows those golden looks, the ones that melt you, when seen on a woman's face and he encapsulates them in classic verse. He sings, "I saw you last night and you almost lost the fight/You looked me in the eye and I could tell/That for a moment we were right where we should be/If only for that moment, you almost fell/You almost fell from the top/Of a well that just won't stop/Into a shining place where lovers dwell/And for a for a moment we were right where we should be/If only for that moment, you almost fell," on "Almost Fell" and it's heart-wrenching goodness. Hand is ensconced in the weariness of love and in an observer's appreciation of that very same weariness. It's weariness broken by something greater, even if you've lived "with one foot in heave and one foot in hell." It all comes through on "There Was A Time," when the Texan sings, "All of these times have something in common/All of these times I'm speaking of/All of these times, we'll lose God's promise/If any of the time we deny his love/There is a time for compassion/There'll be a time for temper too/That's when we'll find the master fashion/Forgiveness in both me and you."