Produced by Reckless Kelly’s Cody Braun, the third album from Missouri’s John D. Hale Band is a swaggering, distressed Southern melange of rough living, relationship troubles, and proud men fallen on hard times. While Hale finds sweet harmony with Dani Flowers on the starcrossed “Hearts Like Us,” even the rougher-sounding tunes never stray far from accessibility. Chalk that up to solid, unfussy playing/production and intelligent songcraft that provides plenty of lyrical meat without giving short shrift to melody. Hale originals like the title track and excellent “Desperate People” bristle with real, lived-in detail; in the latter, the first-person narrator summarizes himself as a well-meaning “desperate man with a mind like a loaded gun,” a characterization that serves as a kind of coda for More Than I Can Handle as a whole. Self-penned slices of life on the margins easily hold their own alongside well-chosen covers of Fred Eaglesmith (“Harold Wilson”) and Ricky Skaggs (“One Way Track”), both assimilated so completely into the band’s own Red Dirt outlaw style as to be nearly unrecognizable as outside cuts. And that loaded gun? It only goes off twice, not bad as far as rural roots music body counts go. Fitting for a collection that’s more about finding ways to survive whatever comes your way in life and love than it is about extreme measures for their own sake.
Recommended if you like: Reckless Kelly, Chris Knight, Whitey Morgan & the 78s
Grade (Pass/Fail only): PASS