Paul Cauthen is a preacher, no matter how he looks at it. “I’ve just got a different way of preaching,” he says, meaning he sings songs, not scripture. Cauthen grew up in East Texas traveling around the south with his grandfather, who was a song leader in the Church of Christ and the brother of the preacher, helping convince people to build churches for their congregations. “It felt like a There Will Be Blood kind of thing,” he says, “I was a six-year-old in a suit with him, standing up on stage while he was giving a presentation to 400 people at a church in Jena, Louisiana.” When his grandfather died when he was 10, he started writing songs on his grandfather’s guitar and playing them to help his mom and grandmother cope with the loss. When he saw how his songs helped them heal, a light went off in his head: He could write songs that help people cope with and understand what he calls their burdens.
For the last two years, when he's not on the road, Cauthen has been living in the Belmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas, or recording more songs with Beau Bedford and the Texas Gentlemen. He’s drawn a wide range of comparisons in the time since My Gospel was released: His booming baritone with its East Texas twinge makes Elvis Presley and Waylon Jennings comparisons all too easy. “That scares the shit out of me,” he says about being compared to Elvis. “I don’t want to carry that fucking load. I’m just going to be me.” When he released “Everybody Walkin’ This Land” in April of 2018, the song’s similarities to Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” were pointed out almost instantaneously. “Everybody Walkin’ This Land” starts with a similar thump and shake before Cauthen draws a line in the third stanza: "You racists and fascists nihilists and bigots / I'm callin' you out my friend / I’ve felt your hurt / Drank your fear / Your actions will not stand/ Get on your knees / Bend to pray / Look at me, you can change / You racists, fascists, nihilists and bigots / I’m calling you out my friend.”
“I’ve been racist,” Cauthen says of writing the song’s hook. “I just want those words to fucking cut like knives, just cut through. I want it to be a coping mechanism and I want it to actually heal and I don’t want to shove scripture or anything down your throat.” Like any good preacher, Cauthen gives great attention to how people are feeling in any given moment, able to understand what it is they need and give it to them. Many of the songs on this EP have been played for his live audiences before, and fans play a large role in helping choose what he releases. “My judgment and my opinion [on what songs to release] come from what I feel the fans need next from me,” he says.
If My Gospel was the start of his sermon, Have Mercy is the second act, a refocusing of the mind and body that encourages you to reflect with love and joy. "My Cadillac" is a funk-fused tribute to driving around with your best guy or gal and looking for trouble, while "Resignation" deals with taking a step back from whatever bad vibes you've been putting out and reconsidering where they come from. "Tumbleweed" is just a good ol' fashioned love song, but where the album truly shines, and where Cauthen's talent and Bedford's knack for finding a groove are on full display, is "In Love With a Fool," a sparkling piano ballad that sounds like it fell straight out of Leon Russell's discography.
“This EP is my glue from My Gospel to where this is going to move,” Cauthen says, hinting that he’s already planning to put out another release in February of next year. “It’s David Bowie put on his boots, went down to Austin and lived for two years kind of record," he says of February's promise. To tide you over, you can listen to Have Mercy below ahead of its 22 June release on Lightning Rod Records.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.