"There's no fuckin' country music in Nashville," Paul Cauthen is telling me over the phone, a week before his debut solo album My Gospel is released. The Tyler, Texas native is not a religious man, per se, (he grew up in the Church of Christ, around those of very strong faith) but his record is deeply so. My Gospel is a modern-day gospel album, full of the energy of an old-time tent revival. Themes of worship, love, forgiveness, and hope are present throughout this record, with Cauthen's voice shining, sorrow-filled and humbled, best displayed on songs like "Hanging Out On The Line" or "Let It Burn." His is the voice of a man who hit rock bottom, stood up, brushed himself off, and fought tooth and nail to get back to the top.
My Gospel is Cauthen's first release since quitting Sons of Fathers, an Americana band he formed with bassist David Beck in 2013. Over the next three years Cauthen found himself with nothing to do, turning to heavy alcohol use. "I moved around, I did the Texas nomad things," Cauthen says of that time. "I felt real shitty. I was the one that quit the band... I had built something for five years and was like, "fuck it" and moved on." Finally, he turned to God, called his family to apologize, and started working on My Gospel, which you can hear in full below.
"I'm a prayer, I pray. I believe that everyone has got their own thing, but that is what gets me through the day," Cauthen tells me when I ask about his relationship to the big guy upstairs. Is God, in Cauthen's mind, a good guy or a bad guy: "God is both," he says, matter-of-factly. "That bad thought in your mind…that bad feeling…I believe God is that gut feeling. Sometimes you don't want to be true to yourself. Other times when you're broke and down, God is there for you to lean on...I don't practice hardcore religion. I think that everyone should have open arms and accept. We just have to be nice to one another. That's my two cents on God."
Cauthen sounds remarkably like Johnny Cash, his voice tinged with the "Mama, I tried, but I'm still just a man" desperation that artists like Cash or Hank Williams made so popular. It's country music that, in the age of "Nashville pop" as Cauthen likes to call it, does what country music really does best: reminds people of their mortality, of the relentless way life seems to come at you, but never makes you feel hopeless. My Gospel is a somber reminder of how lucky we are to be alive.
Another charming quality of Cauthen is his brutal honesty. Cauthen isn't afraid to say what's on his mind. He's not the kind of guy to talk about you behind your back, he'd talk about you to your face. You hear this honesty in songs like "Grand Central," where Cauthen wrestles with his love of a fast life and his fear of hell, (If I ever get to heaven/I better roll me some sevens/Cause right now, my ticket's punched for hell) or "Be There Soon," a song about coming to terms with one's mortality. You hear it even more in his voice when he's admonishing Nashville for being a sweatshop for pop songs.
"You don't have to write about tan-lines and flip flops and cold beer and the sand every fuckin' day...Write about your feelings, for once," he tells me. "Right now, Nashville has turned into straight up factory work."
"These radios play 80s rock guitar and cheesy hip-hop Blake Shelton songs that just aren't country....It's this Luke Bryan machine that are the center of it. God bless him but if you think that's country music…it's smoke and mirrors. There are a lot of false identities out there. It's gonna revert to real country music again because people are sick of hearing this bullshit in Nashville."
"You should listen to the good news/This is my gospel/ This is my truth." Cauthen croons on the final track of the album, "My Gospel," a joyous, celebratory track that closes the record on a grateful, satisfied note, as if his demons have, for at least a moment, been defeated.
Listen to the album below. My Gospel was produced by Beau Bedford and is out October 14 on Lightning Rod Records. You can preorder it here.
Annalise Domenighini listens to 'My Gospel' every Sunday instead of going to church. Follow her on Twitter.