Thad Cockrell knows that there’s something soothing about a celebration of personal suffering. On this self-titled, self-released CD, Cockrell and his Starlite Country Band give us seven tracks of pure misery followed by a brief respite of triumphant gospel. Damn, what a great feeling! Cockrell fully understands the cathartic power of a sad song and brings this knowledge to his music with abandon. He has a talent for subtle songwriting, suggesting just enough with his imagery for the mind and heart to fill in the blanks. The entire record is faithful to honky tonk tradition, yet there’s a freshness in the sound and songwriting that makes these tracks as contemporary as the Backsliders or Wilco.

The first song, “Pretending,” is a mellow, shuffling lament of nostalgia and lonely nights, while the second track, “Hard Time Taking this Heartbreak’n,” rollicks with an energy that contradicts the suffering tenor of the lyrics. From there, Cockrell navigates the kaleidoscope of human emotions with the songs, “Why [Can’t My Love Be Enough]?,” “Stack of Dreams” and “Burdens Rest Easy.”

Though there’s hardly a cheerful word among the bunch, an abundant sense of hope runs as an undercurrent through all of Cockrell’s music. No other tune speaks more to that hope than his gospel track, “He Set Me Free,” which seems to respond, possibly as an antidote, to the previous seven tracks. It’s uplifting yet solemn, delivering a message of salvation with great optimism and eye-to-eye sincerity.

Cockrell’s roughhewn voice, reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam’s, resonates with a texture and richness beyond his age. That, coupled with his fine songwriting and innovative musicianship, takes this CD into new artistic territory for country music.