“I was driving tractors before it got sexy. Real cowboys don’t rock to Kenny Chesney,” according to Paul Cauthen, a musician who is bringing his Country Coming Down tour to The Union Event Center on Friday, March 3, 2023.
Paul Cauthen is blazing a Zappa-like trail with his creative, tongue-in-cheek parody of today’s country music ethos. He offers us a bigger-than-life version of Outlaw Country, and like Zappa, he doesn’t always color within the musical lines of his genre. He is affectionately known as “Big Velvet” because his deep baritone voice channels the vocal spirit of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Elvis Presley (if you can imagine such a throuple.) He plays country, but will veer off into disco or funk mid-song to build a new concoction that resonates with traditional fans and those looking for something more experimental and avant-garde.
On “Cocaine Country Dancing,” for example, Big Velvet creates a giddy-up, country disco when he adds his Elvis/Cash/Jennings vocals to a seedy strip-joint dance beat. It’s something akin to The Who’s song, “Eminence Front” with outlaw-styled lyrics to which you can either line dance or do the hustle. Choose your poison.
Cauthen’s journey started with the Austin-based Americana vocal duo Sons of Fathers, but he left to pursue a solo career. He released his debut record, My Gospel in 2016. The dark and introspective record featured a throwback sound blending outlaw and gospel country without tipping the scales either way. The record’s opening track “Still Drivin” moves along a retro Jennings-esque trail, but then Cauthen takes you down an Elvis-styled gospel path.
On his 2017 seven-song EP Have Mercy, he started to find his satirical Big Velvet voice with catchy songs like “Everybody Walkin’ This Land” where he sings (in Johnny Cash fashion) “You racists, fascists, nihilists, and bigots we’re prayin’ for you my friend.”
With his 2019 full-length release Room 41 Cauthen makes peace with his hell-raising lifestyle with songs like “Prayed For Rain.” He sings, “The well’s runnin’ dry. Hell, so am I” and “The rain turned to hail cold, dark, and pale. It beat me as I fell. Lord, I fell.” On the song “Big Velvet,” he confessed “The train wrecked, but I walked away.” With “Cocaine Country Dancing,” his inner demon-slaying ballads give way to a sardonic acceptance of life’s occasional derailment, and the need to celebrate his wild side.
On his latest release, Country Coming Down, Cauthen fully commits to his unorthodox country sound. He offers us a Zappa-like parody of the Nashville gatekeepers who think he’s not “country” enough. On “Country as F***” he sings “I’m a shade tree mechanic, got a one-ton truck. I drink a 30-pack a day ‘cause I’m country as f***.” He adds an organic Elvis vocal shudder when he sings “Hot dog, holly golly, dagnabit I was two years old when I shot my first rabbit.” Cauthen seems at peace with his Big Velvet moniker and accepts he won’t fit in anyone’s box. He’s having a hell of a good time cultivating a larger-than-life and sometimes campy showmanship. I’m bringing both my cowboy boots and my platform shoes to the show, just in case.
Who: Paul Cauthen
What: The State Room and Postfontaine Presents: Paul Cauthen’s Country Coming Down Tour
Where: The Union Event Center
When: Friday, March 3, 2023