James Hand sounds like the kind of guy who was playing hard honky tonk music in beer bars and roadhouses long before "Young Country" reared its ugly head and made his music unfashionable, and there's a good reason why -- he's been doing just that in a career that has spanned four decades. After all that time, Rounder Records finally took a chance on him and released Hand's first nationally distributed album, The Truth Will Set You Free, in 2006. While one can clearly hear hints of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson, and Johnny Horton in Hand's strong, lonesome voice and songs of broken hearts and hard living, he doesn't sound like he's trying to copy anyone so much as he's writing and performing in the style of these creative contemporaries, and at its best The Truth Will Set You Free plays like a country record that could have been made 40 years ago without suggesting this man is playing at being "retro." (He still has his day job as a horse trainer, which tells you plenty about his attitude towards the current state of Nashville.) "In the Corner, At the Table, By the Jukebox" is a brilliant evocation of the solace of a night at the bar, "If I Live Long Enough to Heal" suggests Hand clearly remembers his last broken heart, and "Little Bitty Slip" is a rollicking tale of the hard work of keeping a happy home. While the production by multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines and Ray Benson (of Asleep at the Wheel) is sometimes a shade too clean for the material, the performances are spot-on, and Hand truly delivers the goods on all 12 cuts -- it's stretching the truth to say he's the last of the great honky tonk men, but The Truth Will Set You Free shows there are still some real country singers and songwriters out there playing it raw and real and waiting to be heard, and Hand's soulful, heartfelt music is a joy to hear.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming