Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Room 41, the new album from Texas country outlaw Paul Cauthen.
You don’t need to know that Paul Cauthen’s grandpa was a preacher, but when you know that piece of information, it’s like a skeleton key for unpacking Room 41, his stomping, dusty, new album. These are songs meant to convert the people in the back, not sure if they can stomach being judged alongside the congregation, too hungover from the previous night to stand and confess. That’s not to say these are songs about religion per se; instead, Room 41 has 10 tracks that sound like prayers Johnny Cash would say to himself on Sunday mornings, after a particularly bad night of drinking and drugging. East Texas freaks do cocaine and dance, do cocaine and burn out, do cocaine and strut their stuff, and do cocaine and talk to the devil on Room 41, and that’s just in the first half of the album. Room 41 is a brawny, confessional album about making bad decisions, and trying to make sense of your place in a world of temptation, addiction, and sin. It’s one of the best albums of the year.
Cauthen’s got a hell of a voice, somewhere between Johnny and Waylon, but as smooth as a flaming whiskey shot. He can bark, he can croon, he can howl at the moon. Room 41 is produced by Beau Bedford and the backing band is the Texas Gentlemen, who imbue these songs with boogie, and a crisp tightness that country records of the ’60s and ’70s used to have. Though the lyrics are filled with wild folks doing wild things, the band is steady, doing acoustic rave-ups (“Cocaine Country Dancing”), shuffling ballads (“Angel”), neon light country funk (“Big Velvet”), and quiet introspection (“Prayed For Rain”).
A very real bender led Cauthen to his current career as an outlaw country crooner: He was in an Americana band named Sons of Fathers that broke up right when it seemed like they were going to break big. He put out a solo album in quick order, but then went off the rails; it was coming through that breakdown that informed much of Room 41. Ultimately, that’s what makes a country album superlative — the feeling like the songs of woe and looking the fire in its eyes are for real, and Cauthen’s broiling epics of sin (“Big Velvet” and “Cocaine Country Dancing” belong in the outlaw country pantheon immediately) are as real as they come. Cauthen went to the brink and was able to live through it to tell the tale, and Room 41 is his tablet from on high.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.