Paul Cauthen kept the fires of old-fashioned outlaw country burning in the 2010s, spiking his sinewy swagger with an undercurrent of gospel. Cauthen may have been resolutely secular, but he telegraphed those spiritual connections in the very title of his 2016 breakthrough, My Gospel, not to mention the testifying implied by the name of its 2018 successor, Have Mercy. Unlike such peers as Sturgill Simpson, Cauthen didn't bend his country toward psychedelic rock, nor was he a savvy Nashville operator along the lines of Chris Stapleton. He was a Texas outsider, cutting his teeth in the early 2010s with Sons of Fathers before launching his own solo career with My Gospel, an acclaimed debut that showcased his idiosyncratic take on traditional country.
A native of East Texas, Paul Cauthen was raised in Tyler, Texas, learning how to sing and play at the hands of his grandfather, a songwriter from Lubbock who associated with that town's local legends Buddy Holly & the Crickets. As he grew, he was steeped in classic country and rock & roll, but he found his way toward trouble as his adolescence gave way to young adulthood. After a brief stint in jail for marijuana possession and getting kicked out of college, Cauthen turned to songwriting to stabilize himself.
While residing in San Marcos, Texas in 2010, Cauthen ran into David Beck, a singer/songwriter who shared a similar taste and sensibility. They quickly formed a duo called Beck & Cauthen, switching their name to Sons of Fathers after alternative rocker Beck sent a cease-and-desist letter. Relocating to Austin, Sons of Fathers recorded a debut album with producer Lloyd Maines, which appeared in 2011. Sons of Fathers earned good reviews and climbed into Billboard's Americana Top Ten with both their debut and Burning Days, the sophomore set that appeared in 2013. The success started to chafe at Cauthen and he quit the group following a performance where the duo opened for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.
Following the split, Cauthen roamed Texas, eventually settling in the Dallas area as he slowly started a solo career, gravitating toward gutsy, soulful country as he wrote and recorded the material featured on My Gospel. Appearing in late 2016 on Lightning Rod Records, the Beau Bedford-produced My Gospel peaked at 50 on Billboard's Country Albums chart and he worked the album throughout 2017, building up a fan base.
Cauthen recorded Have Mercy -- a seven-song collection of originals that was somewhere between an album and EP -- with Bedford at Modern Electric Studios in Dallas, supported by the collective of DFW musicians calling themselves the Texas Gentlemen. Have Mercy appeared in June of 2018. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine