Album Review — HARDY’s ‘HIXTAPE, Vol. 1’

HARDY (real name Michael Hardy) has been writing a lot of songs for some of the biggest names in mainstream country in the the last few years and now he’s stepping into the spotlight himself with what is essentially his debut album, HIXTAPE, Vol. 1. It features several collaborations from various country artists (17!) and is based off the successful mixtape format popularized by hip-hop. And I have to say I did not expect to review this album at all. Even more surprising: I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did.

Lead song and single “Boy from the South” features Cole Swindell and Dustin Lynch. It’s an okay track about your typical guy from the south. Swindell’s part I enjoy, but not so much Lynch’s part. Other than the John Boy and Billy Big Show shout out and the funny line about writing “We Want Bama” on the windshield (which you shouldn’t write if you’re a fan of a southern team not named Clemson, Georgia or LSU), the lyrics are pretty average for me.

“He Went to Jared” is my favorite song on the album. Featuring Morgan Wallen, the song is about a working man getting dumped by his woman for a rich man. I love the simple storytelling and hooks used and Wallen’s unique voice is the perfect choice for this song. Also am I the only one who gets a chuckle out of the line “I’m just sittin’ here with a beer and my jeans tucked”? It’s such a random ass observation, but it fits so well.

“Redneck Tendencies” is a modern day, redneck version of “Mama Tried” and sees HARDY calling on ’90s country staples Trace Adkins and Joe Diffie. Both are great features on this fun little singalong. “Nothin’ Out Here” features Thomas Rhett and is your standard “don’t overlook small town” songs that doesn’t have anything new to say about the subject nor is it catchy. It’s ironic that the two singles of this album are the ones I skip when listening to this album.

“My Kinda Livin'” is about taking pleasure in country living. HARDY is joined by Hunter Phelps and Jameson Rodgers and I have to say I’m not too familiar with Phelps and Rodgers. But the three sound pretty good together and they fit this easygoing song well. The crickets chirping in the background throughout are a nice touch, as they compliment this tone too. Unlike “Nothin’ Out Here,” “No Place like Hometown” is a small town song I can get behind. The sentiment resonates with me, Keith Urban’s solo vocals sound good and I really enjoy the harmonies of HARDY, Urban and Hillary Lindsey in the latter half of the track.

Mitchell Tenpenny and Jon Langston join in on “Something a Lil’ Stronger” and I have to admit this was the song I was expecting to hate the most because I have not been a fan of Tenpenny up to this point. But I have to give props where it’s due: he sounds great on this song and so does Langston. The both fit this singalong about always wanting to move on to something stronger and better, whether it be a drink or a woman. The simple and catchy observational tone reminds me a lot of another song I like, Jon Pardi’s “What I Can’t Put Down.” This is definitely a highlight of the album and Tenpenny should consider working with HARDY more.

The underrated Tracy Lawrence knocks it out of the park on “What They Make Backroads for.” Jake Owen sounds pretty good too. These are both artists who just know how to approach these simple country songs that aren’t trying to be anything more than fun singalongs. These may seem like shallow observations, but there’s not much more to say when it comes to these type of songs: you listen to them and they either work or they don’t, and this one works. “Turn You Down” is that fun rocker, Friday night anthem that this album needed. It’s another great feature from Morgan Wallen and Zakk Wylde is awesome at delivering the rollicking guitar licks that make you want to bang your head. Also I love the depiction of Wylde on the cover of the album, which is one of the most memorable albums covers I’ve seen this year.

After an album of fun songs, the album closes with a more serious song in “One Beer,” which is nice to see. It’s about how one beer turns into a hook-up, which turns into an unexpected pregnancy, then a unexpected marriage and family. It’s a real story that happens in small towns every day across America, so I praise the storytelling of the lyrics. Devin Dawson and Lauren Alaina are the guest artists, but I really don’t feel their presence like other guest artists on the album. Nevertheless, they all three sound good harmonizing together.

Readers familiar with my reviews might be shocked to see I enjoy HARDY’s HIXTAPE, Vol. 1, but that’s because you’re not listening to this album for what it’s trying to be: a fun album full of catchy, mindless songs that are easy to turn on and immediately get into. And this album does this well. HARDY isn’t trying to make you think, he just wants you to have a good time and I do when listening to his mixtape.

Grade: 7/10

Review – Cole Swindell’s “Flatliner” (feat. Dierks Bentley)

cole-swindell

I didn’t review Cole Swindell’s sophomore album You Should Be Here. If I had tried I probably would have fell asleep. The majority of the album was the most safe, banal and vanilla music I heard on an album in 2016. This isn’t necessarily bad, but might be worse than outright bad music because this is easily forgettable. Yet this was also still an improvement. The key word though is majority because Swindell’s new single is one of the exceptions, “Flatliner.” Of course the song opens with the obligatory sound of flatlining on an electrocardiogram, which sums up the pulse of many songs on the album. This gives way to obnoxiously loud, pop rock country production. It’s annoying, but for once Swindell’s song has a little energy. The song itself is about a woman who makes a man flatline from her exterior beauty, or tl;dr it’s another song about a hot girl according to a bro. Swindell delivers this painfully thin theme with the same old mediocre vocals. Of course this just isn’t enough, as Dierks Bentley joins in on the song. His own latest album Black wasn’t enough to help destroy his credibility apparently. No, he has to join Swindell in uttering lines such as “Dang girl, I’m done. I ain’t never seen no one, poppin’ it like a cold one, droppin’ down like oh oh.”At this line I’m done with this damn song. Congrats to Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley for releasing the first moronic bro song of 2017. What’s even worse about this song is the more you play the worse it gets. The combination of the sub par production, painfully shallow lyrics and the annoying vocal delivery from both Swindell and Bentley makes “Flatliner” a creatively dead song with very little merits about it.

Grade: 1/10

Recommend? – Hell No

Written by Cole Swindell, Jaron Boyer and Matt Bronleewe

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [January 3]

sam-hunt-take-your-time
Eh, close enough

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

(Note: This week’s movement in parenthesis is based on the previous Current Pulse in December to show change over the holiday)

  1. Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” -4 (Up 4)
  2. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song” (Up 1)
  3. Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” (Up 4)
  4. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Up 6)
  5. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be” +3 (Up 1)
  6. Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All” +1 (Down 5)
  7. Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” -3 (Up 5)
  8. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time” -3 (Down 6)
  9. Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5 (Up 6)
  10. Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boots Fits” -4 (Up 1)
  11. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Up 7)
  12. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 4)
  13. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 [Best Song] 
  14. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 (Up 3)
  15. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1 (Down 1)
  16. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 (Up 4) [Worst Song]
  17. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 (Up 5)
  18. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 1)
  19. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” +3 (Up 2)
  20. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (New to Top 30)
  21. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 (Up 2)
  22. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Up 3)
  23. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Up 1)
  24. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 3)
  25. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” 0 (Up 3)
  26. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 
  27. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (Up 2)
  28. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” (New to Top 30)
  29. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 (New to Top 30)
  30. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -22

The pulse improves one spot this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -2
  • Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” 0
  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” -2

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Luke Bryan – “Fast”
    • You know what other song I’m instantly reminded of when I hear this Luke Bryan song? Another Luke Bryan song, “Drink a Beer.” This is probably because both songs share something really important in common: an overrated sense of sentimentality in the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, this is better than most of Bryan’s recent singles and definitely an improvement over “Move.” But this whole theme of life going too fast so live it up now is covered too vaguely, not to mention we’ve heard better versions of this song on country radio (Kenny Chesney’s “Don’t Blink” and Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” come to mind). The song is also too lifeless and lacks the energy to really hook me into the lyrics. Boring may be better than bad, but it isn’t good either. 4/10
  • Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool”
  • Dierks Bentley – “Black”
    • 2016 was the year Dierks went A-lister and in the process abandoned the things that made his music good. Warm guitars were traded for stiff pop, adult contemporary production. “Black” perfectly exemplifies this. It’s a stilted attempt at an edgy love song that instead collapses in itself. Bentley tries to force these really clunky rhymes throughout the song and the instrumentation fails to achieve the spacey blackness it’s going for and instead leaves the listener feeling empty. Listening to this song is akin to eating a rice cake: sure you consumed something, but you sure as hell don’t feel it and you’re left with no nutritional value. You know what’s really sad though? This is the best single of the Black era so far. 3/10

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Little Big Town – “Better Man” – Up 7 from #18 to #11
  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” – Up 6 from #10 to #4
  • Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” – Up 6 from #15 to #9

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” – Out of the Top 30 & Done

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time”
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” (A terrible position coming out of the holidays. It’ll reach top ten maybe, but radio seems to be getting ready to drop this one)
  • Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” (The best I see this doing is top 15, but I don’t think it even gets there before dropping)
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” (Radio just isn’t getting behind this song and I’ll be shocked if it lasts to the end of the month)
  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” (It’s now been on the chart for 38 weeks and a lot of new singles are coming behind it. I don’t like this song’s odds.)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” (This song has made one hell of a turnaround after a rocky beginning)
  • RaeLynn – “Love Triangle”
  • Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends”
  • Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World”

Note: There won’t be a Current Pulse of Texas Country Radio tomorrow, as the last chart update was in the middle of December. Once the first update for the new year drops that feature will start up again.

As always be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts in the comments below. 

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [Dec. 5]

Florida Georgia Line Roots

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All” +1 
  2. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time” -3 (Up 1)
  3. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song” (Up 1)
  4. Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -2 (Down 2)
  5. Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” -4 (Up 1)
  6. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be” +3 (Up 2)
  7. Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” (Up 3)
  8. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” (Down 3)
  9. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” -2 (Down 2)
  10. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Up 1)
  11. Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boots Fits” -4 (Up 1)
  12. Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” -3 (Up 1)
  13. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 (Up 2) [Best Song] 
  14. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1 
  15. Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5 (Up 1)
  16. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 2)
  17. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2
  18. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Up 3)
  19. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 1)
  20. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 (Up 2) [Worst Song]
  21. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” +3 (Down 2)
  22. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 (Up 3)
  23. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 (Up 1)
  24. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Down 1)
  25. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Up 1)
  26. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Up 1)
  27. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 1)
  28. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” 0 (Up 1)
  29. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (Up 1)
  30. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 (New to Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -23

The pulse improves seven spots this week! 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Luke Bryan – “Move” -4

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
    • I reviewed this one months ago, so if you missed it you can click on the link above to read it. One thing I have to add: I never thought this song had a chance at the top 30 when I first reviewed it and I’m thrilled it was able to make it this high. This song performing well also probably means we’ll be getting a new album from Campbell at some point in 2017. Again a really good song worth checking out.

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” – Up 3 from #10 to #7
  • Little Big Town – “Better Man” – Up 3 from #21 to #18
  • Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” – Up 3 from #25 to #22

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Luke Bryan – “Move” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” – Down 3 from #5 to #8
  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” – Down 2 from #7 to #9

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime”
  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Granger Smith – “If The Boot Fits” (Horrible sales and only making small gains. It should drop once it hits the top ten.)
  • Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes”
  • Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” (It had a noticeable drop this week and I’m a little worried. On the positive side it kept its bullet and I’m hopeful that this drop was just a result of stations starting to play more Christmas music.)
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” (This one had an even worse week arguably. I have a bad feeling this one will be gone when the holidays end.)
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine” (This is the 41st week it has been on the chart. I’m surprised it’s still here, considering the album release has already happened.)
  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”

(Special Note: A lot of songs lost airplay this week because of stations starting to play Christmas music, so I could easily be off on some of the songs being on the hot seat. We won’t truly know until the New Year. The “freeze” is just around the corner…)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Dierks Bentley – “Black”
  • RaeLynn – “Love Triangle”
  • Runaway June – “Lipstick” (Yes! This appears poised to break the top 30 in 2017.)
  • Luke Bryan – “Fast”

 

Announcement: There will be no Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio or The Current Pulse of Texas Country Radio next week, as we will be starting our “holiday freeze” next week regardless if radio starts theirs. I have an absolute blast doing this weekly feature and can’t wait to continue doing it in 2017. Here’s to hoping we see a positive pulse in 2017. And thank you for reading!

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s Pulse in the comments below. 

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [Nov. 28]

Florida Georgia Line Roots

Each week we take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. How do I determine the score for the song? The review grade it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been reviewed yet, then I will make the call. The grade it has received or I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All” +1 (Up 1)
  2. Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -2 (Up 1)
  3. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time” -3 (Up 2)
  4. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song” (Up 2)
  5. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” (Down 4)
  6. Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” -4 (Up 1)
  7. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” -2 (Down 3)
  8. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be” +3 (Up 1)
  9. Luke Bryan – “Move” -4 (Down 1)
  10. Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” 
  11. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Up 1)
  12. Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boots Fits” -4 (Down 1)
  13. Thomas Rhett – “Star of the Show” -3 
  14. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1 
  15. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 [Best Song] 
  16. Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5 
  17. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2
  18. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 
  19. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” +3 (Up 1)
  20. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Down 1)
  21. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Up 2)
  22. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 [Worst Song]
  23. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Down 2)
  24. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5
  25. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1
  26. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Up 1)
  27. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Up 1)
  28. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 1)
  29. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” 0 (Up 1)
  30. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (New to Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -30

The pulse drops one spot this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer” +2 (I’m surprised it held on for so long. But on the other hand this should have done much better. Country radio dropped the ball on this one)

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” – Up 3 from #33 to #30
  • Little Big Town – “Better Man” – Up 2 from #23 to #21
  • Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time” – Up 2 from #5 to #3

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” – Down 4 from #1 to #5
  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” – Down 3 from #4 to #7

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” (Maybe. It could get the same treatment the song below has gotten and stick around)
  • Luke Bryan – “Move” (How is this is still here? FFS!)

On The Hot Seat:

  • Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” (Made small gains this week and is surrounded by fast-rising songs. Not good. This song is in a really bad spot and needs help quick if it wants to stick around. I don’t see it happening.)
  • Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” (Made better gains this week, but has same problem as “80s Mercedes.” It just isn’t in as bad of shape. Yet.)
  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (Picked up more steam, but I’m still not convinced it has staying power. I’m guessing his team is doing all they can to get it to last until the freeze.)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” (This actually has a nice path in front of it and I’m feeling optimistic)
  • Dierks Bentley – “Black”
  • RaeLynn – “Love Triangle” (Hmm….)
  • Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends”

Special Note: Jerrod Niemann and Lee Brice’s “A Little More Love” is finally dead and dropped off the chart. It’s a Christmas miracle! Like a blind squirrel finds an acorn occasionally, country radio gets it right here.

Programming Note: There will be no Current Pulse of Texas Country Radio this week due to the fact there were zero changes in the chart positioning, as it appears there wasn’t any reporting for it Thanksgiving week.

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s Pulse in the comments below.