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

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [March 2008]

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This is the Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country  Airplay Chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. 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 past top 30 songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade 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 past pulse of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Country Airplay Chart from March 15th, 2008.

  1. Carrie Underwood – “All American Girl” +1 (Cliché, but the sound and vocals are good)
  2. Rodney Atkins – “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” 0
  3. Alan Jackson – “Small Town Southern Man” +4 (One of his best in my opinion)
  4. Kenny Chesney & George Strait – “Shiftwork” 0
  5. Chuck Wicks – “Stealing Cinderella” +1 (cheesy as all hell, but it’s played with enough sincerity to work for me)
  6. Trace Adkins – “You’re Gonna Miss This” +4
  7. Gary Allan – “Watching Airplanes” +2
  8. George Strait – “I Saw God Today” +4
  9. Chris Cagle – “What Kinda Gone” +2
  10. Jason Aldean – “Laughed Until We Cried” +3 (Yeah, a positive Aldean score. I’m as shocked as you all are)
  11. Brooks & Dunn – “God Must be Busy” +2
  12. James Otto – “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” 0 (Eh…)
  13. Taylor Swift – “Picture To Burn” +1
  14. Phil Vassar – “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” +1 (Cheesy as all hell, but at least it sort of incorporates a story)
  15. Bucky Covington – “It’s Good To Be Us” -1
  16. Lady Antebellum – “Love Don’t Live Here” +3
  17. Kellie Pickler – “Things That Never Cross A Man’s Mind” +1
  18. Joe Nichols – “It Ain’t No Crime” +1
  19. Jewel – “Stronger Woman” -1 [Worst Song] (Man, never heard a song by here before. Don’t care for her voice at all. Plus the song is too preachy for me. Sorry)
  20. Jake Owen – “Somethin’ Bout A Woman” 0
  21. Dierks Bentley – “Trying To Stop Your Leaving” +3
  22. Josh Turner & Trisha Yearwood – “Another Try” +4 [Best Song]
  23. Garth Brooks & Huey Lewis – “Workin’ For A Livin'” +2 (Yes, I’ve heard this Garth song)
  24. Ashton Shepherd – “Takin’ Off This Pain” +2
  25. Jack Ingram – “Maybe She’ll Get Lonely” 0
  26. Rascal Flatts – “Every Day” -1
  27. Brad Paisley – “I’m Still A Guy” +2
  28. Montgomery Gentry – “Back When I Knew It All” +3
  29. Josh Gracin – “We Weren’t Crazy” +2 (Yes, people on country radio used to sing from the perspective of ONCE being young instead of pretending they’re still young…)
  30. The Eagles – “Busy Being Fabulous” 0

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +45

So yeah this kind of a weird week. On one hand, there’s a plethora of great songs. Even compared to some charts in the 90’s I’d say there’s more good songs here. In other words, quantity versus quality. In fact, picking the best song was absolutely brutal.

The problem is that there’s also a lot of mediocrity here. Nothing inherently terrible or anything, but there are too many songs that play it safe here and don’t really stand out that much. Still this is a damn good week. I’m happy with the results.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [May 2013]

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This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. 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 past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade 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 past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. Admittedly my week was pretty hectic, therefore I’m taking a break from my review backlog this week. It will resume next week, but for now I picked 2013 since I already knew my thoughts on all thirty songs. This week’s chart will be from May 11th, 2013.

  1. Thompson Square – “If I Didn’t Have You” +1
  2. Florida Georgia Line – “Get Your Shine On” -3 (Admittedly this song REALLY annoys me, but it’s more of a personal thing. Therefore I decided to be fair.)
  3. Miranda Lambert – “Mama’s Broken Heart” 0
  4. Lady Antebellum – “Downtown” 0
  5. Kenny Chesney – “Pirate Flag” -3
  6. Darius Rucker – “Wagon Wheel” +1 (I don’t think the song is all that special but eh…it was the most country thing to hit the top in quite a while so whatever)
  7. Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift & Keith Urban – “Highway Don’t Care” -2
  8. George Strait – “Give It All We Got Tonight” 0
  9. Chris Young – “I Can Take It From There” +1
  10. Brad Paisley – “Beat This Summer” +3 [Best Song]
  11. Eric Church – “Like Jesus Does” +1
  12. Blake Shelton  & The Pistol Annies – “Boys ‘Round Here” -5 [Worst Song…..Ever]
  13. Brantley Gilbert – “More Than Miles” +1
  14. The Band Perry – “DONE” -1 (And now they really are!)
  15. Jason Aldean – “1994” -5 [Worst Song…..oh shit I already handed this out? Ugh….]
  16. Jake Owen – “Anywhere With You” 0
  17. Zac Brown Band – “Jump Right In” +1
  18. Luke Bryan – “Crash My Party” -1
  19. Gloriana – “Can’t Shake You” +2
  20. The Henningsens – “American Beautiful” 0
  21. Kip Moore – “Hey Pretty Girl” +2
  22. Easton Corbin – “All Over The Road” -1
  23. Hunter Hayes – “I Want Crazy” -2
  24. Carrie Underwood – “See You Again” +1
  25. Gary Allan – “Pieces” +1
  26. Brett Eldredge – “Don’t Ya” -1 (Almost a 0 but that opening line is just way too cringe worthy)
  27. Kelly Clarkson & Vince Gill – “Don’t Rush” +1
  28. Justin Moore – “Point At You” -1
  29. Billy Currington – “Hey Girl” -3
  30. Randy Houser – “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” -2

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: -14

So yeah this week was definitely a bust. From the looks at the bottom half of the chart, it looks like we were just about to be inundated with bro-country. Elsewhere, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton run away with the “honor” of having two of the absolute worst songs to ever descend upon the country genre. Even looking beyond that there’s just not a whole lot here. The best song for me is Brad Paisley’s experimental “Beat This Summer” but only that is great as opposed to outright excellent. Honestly there’s just a whole lot of mediocrity here.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

Review – Jake Owen’s “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” (feat. Chris Stapleton)

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Jake Owen is probably frustrates me the most amongst major label country artists. Here’s an artist who I believe is quite talented and is capable of producing great music. It looked like he was having a breakthrough in this regard a couple of years back when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single, one of the best singles of 2014. Unfortunately that underperformed for his label’s expectations and Owen has been back releasing mediocrity. Nothing angers me more than an artist who willfully puts out bad music when they’re fully aware they’re capable of more. I know this is a business and if you’re on a major label, you’re essentially their property. But it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow knowing this fact. So once Owen’s previous single “American Country Love Song” ended at radio, I was curious to see what the follow-up would be. I have listened to his new album American Love and hope to review it at a later date. When listening to it there was some clear-cut songs I saw as singles and a few I really hope to see released as singles (“LAX” in particular). Well Owen chose one of the clear-cut choices as his new single, “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You.”

What immediately stands out about this single is its catchy grooves and sounds. Most specifically the slide guitar work in this song is very easy to fall for and enjoy. Combining this with the slow-jam, R&B-like sound this song encapsulates, I knew immediately that there was a good chance of this being a single for Owen. But Owen just doesn’t appeal to modern country fans with this song. No, he pulls out something he knows traditionalists will undoubtedly pay attention to and that’s Chris Stapleton. He not only helps co-write this song, but is heard quite prominently in the chorus of this song harmonizing with Owen. You just can’t miss a voice like Stapleton’s. The lyrics are quite catchy too upon your very first listens. All of this together makes for quite a good song, even if it’s not really that country, right?

Well when you start actually paying attention to the lyrics, things kind of take a turn. Once you hear them, it’s pretty clearly what this song is about: a guy hitting on and trying to pick up a girl at the bar, who happens to be in a committed relationship. She’s there alone and the guy knows damn well what her situation is, but he’s inferring since she’s there alone that something could be up and this is his chance to steal her heart. Depending on your interpretation, the song paints the guy at best as opportunistic and at worst a slimy douche. The girl’s reaction to all of this is very ambiguous and her viewpoint really isn’t delved into, which is a shame because it could have really helped establish the narrative of this song. As Mark Chesnutt showed with “Is It Still Cheating” on his new album and even Tim McGraw with “Don’t Make Me Feel at Home,” a pro cheating song can work if the situation is pretty clearly explained. This song fails to make a clear explanation, so I’m left kind of feeling confused about it all because it would feel presumptuous to immediately label this guy a creep, but also not to feel like something is wrong with this picture.

So overall “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” is just a weird song. It has the elements of a good song in spots, while in other spots it’s debatably douchetastic. I will say this is a step up from “American Country Love Song” in that this song doesn’t at least put me asleep and has some energy about it. Really I feel like Chris Stapleton is a big part of why I don’t hate this song because he carries the catchy chorus of this song with his bluesy vocals, while Owen just gets out of the way. The best I can say about Owen’s vocal performance is at least he didn’t do his terrible spoken word he seems to jam into a lot of his music. So basically I think if you gave this song to Stapleton and had Dave Cobb produce it, it would at least be above average. But regardless of who is singing or producing this song, you just can’t get past the mediocre writing that ultimately drags down “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You.”

Grade: 4/10

Written by Chris Stapleton, Shane McAnally & Luke Laird

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [Sept. 19]

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A picture from the era that inspired this week’s #1 song. (Side note: Jackie Gleason is a great actor)

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. Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls” -3 (Up 1)
  2. Kelsea Ballerini – “Peter Pan” -1 (Down 1)
  3. Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” +2 (Up 5)
  4. Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink” +2 
  5. Kenny Chesney & Pink – “Setting The World On Fire” -2 (Up 1)
  6. Tucker Beathard – “Rock On” -3 (Up 3)
  7. William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl” +3 
  8. LoCash – “I Know Somebody” -5 (Up 2) [Worst Song]
  9. Luke Bryan – “Move” -4 (Up 2)
  10. Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory” -2 (Up 3)
  11. Blake Shelton – “She’s Got A Way With Words” -3 (Up 1)
  12. Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime” (Up 3)
  13. Brett Young – “Sleep Without You” -2 (Up 1)
  14. Miranda Lambert – “Vice” +3 (Up 3) 
  15. Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be” +3 (Up 4)
  16. Big & Rich (feat. Tim McGraw) – “Lovin’ Lately” +2 (Up 2)
  17. Drake White – “Livin’ The Dream” +1 (Up 3)
  18. Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time” -3 (Up 3)
  19. Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All” (Up 4)
  20. Maren Morris – “80s Mercedes” -1 (Up 2)
  21. Keith Urban – “Blue Ain’t Your Color” -4 (Up 4)
  22. Granger Dibbles Jr. – “If The Boots Fits” -4 (Up 2)
  23. Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song” (Up 3)
  24. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -3 (Up 3)
  25. Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” 0 (New to Top 30)
  26. Chris Stapleton – “Parachute” +3 (Up 3)
  27. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (New to Top 30)
  28. Jerrod Niemann & Lee Brice – “A Little More Love” -3 (Up 2)
  29. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (New to Top 30) [Best Song]
  30. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (New to Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -25

The pulse improves six spots this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” -2
  • Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” -4
  • Zac Brown Band – “Castaway” +1
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer” +2

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry”
    • Really Carrie? Another song about murdering a guy? Your blood lust apparently can’t be quenched. You’d think after releasing “Church Bells” Underwood would want to switch up the theme for this new single (or you know release “Choctaw County Affair” as a single, the most interesting murder song on the album). But this is essentially the same song as “Church Bells.” The only difference is instead of the husband being an alcoholic asshole who beats women and asked to be murder, the guy in this song has laundry that smells like cheap perfume and red wine. So naturally the wife jumps to conclusions of infidelity and murders him in revenge. Sure, that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction instead of you know just confronting him. This isn’t a bad song, it’s just been done so many times by Underwood already that I’m just bored of this theme coming from her. She’s done this song better multiple times and releasing “Dirty Laundry” as a single is essentially beating a dead horse (which Underwood probably murdered in her song after smelling booze on it). 5/10
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine”
    • The music video for this song was released in January 2015. What the hell? Just thought I would share this tidbit with you. As for High Valley, if you don’t know who they are I don’t blame you. They’re a relatively new duo from Canada signed to Warner Bros. Records and this is essentially their introduction to American audiences. For those who follow Canadian country radio, you’re probably familiar with them. The shortest way I would describe them is Dan + Shay + some token banjos. At least that’s the impression I get from “Make You Mine.” The second comparison is Mumford & Sons, as this sounds like a cheap knockoff of their hit “I Will Wait.” Seriously go play these two songs side-by-side and everything sounds the same. The Walmart-brand folk production, the cliché love lyrics and sanctimonious harmonies all match. Two things this song does get right though are the uplifting, soaring nature that will undoubtedly hook some listeners and the palpable enthusiasm and energy conveyed. In other words, High Valley doesn’t take the song too seriously, which both hurts and benefits it. 3/10
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
    • How great is it to see this song in the top 30? I already gave this a full review, so if you missed it here’s the main gist: This song hooks me from the very beginning with its earthy, acoustic guitar play before giving away to some steel guitar. “Holdin’ Her” tells the story of how Janson grew up from his early days, fell in love and became the man he is now. Janson recalls in his younger days how he used to party and wake up in places with strangers he didn’t know and wondered how he even got there. He goes onto meet the woman he would one day call his wife in an underground pool hall and from that day on his life changed.The lyrics, which were written by Janson and James Otto, are personal, touching and honest. This is the type of country music the world needs. Not to mention the pedal steel guitar is present throughout. It has everything you want in a country song and it’s one of the best singles you’ll hear in 2016. 9/10
  • Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night”
    • The best word to describe Chris Young’s latest album would be interchangeable. That’s because every song on the album plays it really safe and doesn’t take any risks. It’s perhaps one of the safest albums I’ve ever heard, as Young comes off as absolutely petrified to go outside the box and try anything. The good side to this is you can’t really piss anyone off with this type of music. But I have to say I’m glad he chose the interchangeable song with Vince Gill on it as a single because I’ll take Gill in any capacity on country radio. Unfortunately we don’t get to hear Gill’s great pipes (at least outside of harmonies), but we do get to hear his equally great guitar play. The song itself is your standard love ballad about a guy staying sober on Saturday night instead of drinking his pain away. Young delivers his standard performance. There is some nice steel guitar though. Along with Gill, these two aspects raise this song just above average. 6/10

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry” – Up 9 from #34 to #25
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” – Up 7 from #36 to #29
  • Billy Currington – “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” – Up 5 from #8 to #3

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Sam Hunt – “Make You Miss Me” – Out of the Top 30 (& Done)
  • Jake Owen – “American Generic Country Love Song” – Out of the Top 30 (& Done)
  • Zac Brown Band – “Castaway” – Out of the Top 30 (& Done)
  • Brothers Osborne – “21 Summer” – Out of the Top 30 (& Done)

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

  • Blake Shelton – “She’s Got a Way With Words”
  • Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Miranda Lambert – “Vice” (I think her label will fight until it reaches top ten and then let it fall. Consider it lucky to reach top ten, as radio programmers predictably don’t care for this song.)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word”
  • LANco – “Long Live Tonight”
  • Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”
  • Michael Ray – “Think A Little Less”

 

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