FAME Review: James Carothers - Honky Tonk Land
James Carothers - Honky Tonk Land

Honky Tonk Land

James Carothers

Available from James Carothers' online store.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

I think the best way to start this review is to run a couple of stanzas from this hard-core country boy in possession of a huge sense of humor and some damned insightful realities within the heart of the middle class and its working Joe's:

These new country singers
They all sing about drinkin'
How it makes 'em have fun
But it got me to thinkin'
Somethin' was missing
To me it was puzzling

Cause in these pop country songs
They just have fun at bars
They don't get caught cheatin'
And they don't wreck their cars
So I've come to the conclusion
That they don't drink as much as me

And that's just the beginning. James Carothers has a disarmingly hard edge to his honesty. The gent's a grittier less metaphorical Dylan who's honed his hardtack through sweat, a life lived, a hell of a lot of mistakes, and tons of all the everything that makes everyone of us so too-damned-human. Honky Tonk Land isn't accidental in its echoing of Merle Haggard 'cause Big Jim knows the world from the gutter on up. He's exceedingly clever, though, a guy who genuinely knows how to turn a phrase just before taking another pull at that beer and knocking back a shot. I hate to say it, but Springsteen's a twinkie compared to this guy. In fact, I got a hell of a lot of Charlie Daniels when I threw this disc on, and we all know there have been damn few who can stand foursquare with that guy.

I swear to God, too, that Carothers and Rodney Carrington have to be related somehow. Listen to She's Too Crazy and tell me I ain't right. More than once, I was almost on the floor, hilariating, especially in that cut, Angela Primm tossing in some great counter-vocals and sass. But, yo, boys, is the missus out of earshot? Yes? Good. Now, c'mon, you know and I know we ran across this kind of woman before we settled down, don't deny it, and if Brother James ain't testifyin', then I'm a monkey's uncle. The moment you lay an ear to this cut, you're going to bust up, wander down Memory Lane, and then get a chill up your spine. 'Be grateful fer whatcha got now 'n don't look back'…I think that's the lesson here.

If New Country Singers—that's where I nabbed the above-quoted lyrics from—doesn't turn out to be as much a modern standard as Hot Rod Lincoln or a bevy of other prime tunes, then, goddammit!, I'm in the wrong profession…or maybe on the wrong planet. The closing track, Where Did We Come From?, echoes that, a searching examination of modern life and its desk jockeys versus long-gone forebear sodbusters, our new honor and sanity crossed up in the inevitable price of progress. Regardless, this Carothers is the real deal, paradoxically fresh as the wind blowing in from the North 40 while 138% dyed-in-the-wool Old School. His poetics and compositional skills are daunting as hell, and I can't think of a single CD in the last decade as dead nuts genuine country through and through in quite this fashion. The proof? I wish to hell Honky Tonk had been a double CD, 'cause eight songs are nowhere near enough, y'all…and, if ya need me, I'll be down at the bar until the next disc comes out.

Track List:

  • New Country Singers
  • Mississippi Clay
  • I Must Be Alive
  • Honky Tonk Land
  • Have Another Round
  • She's Too Crazy
  • Trouble in Paradise
  • Where Did We Come from?
All songs written by James Carothers
except Trouble in Paradise (Jim Carothers.)

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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