Album Review — HARDY’s ‘A ROCK’

HARDY surprised me last year when he dropped his HIXTAPE album last year, as it was an album I found a good bit of an enjoyment in. The main appeal I harped on throughout the review is the fun nature of the songs and how it unashamedly embraces common themes in country music that many people want to ignore or pretend it isn’t a part of the genre. While singing about drinking beer, Friday nights, neon and trucks are done well past the point of fatigue in the genre, you can’t just completely erase these aspects and just have songs that have to possess some deeper meaning or topic. Otherwise you’re just Americana and Tyler Childers described that “genre” best. You have to have a balance and fun is very much a part of this equation.

However, there is a fine line between stupid fun and stupid nonsense. Unfortunately HARDY crosses more into the latter on his new album A ROCK. The album opens with one of the better songs in “TRUCK.” Despite it being heavy in well-trodden country tropes, it does speak to a lot of country listeners out there and it’s details like HARDY mentioning stuff like in memoriam stickers you see plastered on the back of people’s trucks that shows he understands this crowd. While it may not exactly be my cup of tea, that is the listener HARDY is targeting and songs like this do a great job of it.

The bad on this album begins with “BOYFRIEND.” It makes my ears perk up at first because it sounds like a diss on boyfriend country, a rare mainstream backlash to the mainstream. But then I’m bamboozled, as this ends up being the most nauseating boyfriend country song I’ve heard yet. It’s so saccharine and predictable, it makes me openly gag. But it wouldn’t shock me at all if this schlock ends up being a huge hit. Predictable is the name of the game for “GIVE HEAVEN SOME HELL” too, as I knew before even hitting play it would be about a friend wishing a recently parted friend with the salutation in the title. This song would work if something interesting was actually said in addition, but it isn’t.

“BOOTS” is about falling asleep in a pair of boots and then waking up in them. That’s it. That’s the song. What? Anyway, it gets worse with “WHERE YA AT.” This is one of the biggest piles of word salad bullshit I’ve ever heard. This song seems to be a challenge in how many damn basic mainstream country clichés can be jammed into one song. I only listened to this song twice before reviewing because each time I listened I began to develop a light headache. This is one of the worst songs of 2020. “AIN’T A BAD DAY” is a return to something good on this album though. It’s about a man realizing and accepting blame for his alcoholism throwing away a good relationship. I applaud the introspection and the conveyance of the crushing regret of the man’s actions.

“ONE BEER” is a song I covered in my review of HIXTAPE last year, so go check out that review if you want to read my thoughts on it. I still maintain it’s a good song, although I’m against the idea of gaming sales and streaming numbers by shoehorning old songs onto an album. “SO CLOSE” is about a love that fell just short of working and I have to say this song may be the best on the album. Ashland Craft joins HARDY on the song and they pair well together on this rock country ballad. The stars and rocket imagery used as a comparison for the nature of the relationship is effective too.

“BROKE BOY” is another annoying song about a man basing success around having a hot girlfriend/wife. Just like I said about Tucker Beathard’s “One Upper,” this is not a character I really feel motivated to get behind and why country artists feel the need to continue to push these type of songs baffles me. “HATE YOUR HOMETOWN” is an ugly song about a man being bitter and angry over an ex who ditched him and their small town. The whole premise of this song is HARDY being like “I’m not trying to be a raging asshole, but…” and then proceeds to be a raging asshole. While we all experience this kind of blind rage in a brutal breakup, it doesn’t make for a good song. Nor does this elicit any sympathy for the ranting asshole this song represents. This is essentially a redux of “Redneck Crazy.” The only thing missing is the stalking.

“UNAPOLOGETICALLY COUNTRY AS HELL” is first off a mouthful of a title. Second, this is another song like Tim McGraw’s “Chevy Spaceship” where it’s so goofy, on the nose ridiculous with it’s theme (in this instance how country you are) that I can’t help but be amused as hell. I mean how can you not laugh at a line like “I don’t give a shit if you don’t give a damn” being delivered so earnestly? It rivals the actual parodying done by the Hot Country Knights. The album’s title track closes the album and it’s another one of the highlights. It’s a bit silly to base an entire song around a rock, but HARDY makes thoughtful use of this simple object as he explores different stages of life. While he’s not making any mind-blowing observations, it’s songs like this that shows one of HARDY’S best strengths and that’s relating to the average listener in a way that connects with some depth.

A ROCK is unfortunately a step down for HARDY. While there are some good moments on this album, the bad moments overshadow them and likely will end up being the singles that come from it. This album’s biggest issue is flat-out lazy, predictable songwriting that doesn’t manage to evoke a sense of newness nor fun. Regardless don’t be surprised if HARDY starts becoming a bigger household name in country music, as his style and approach is similar enough to the most popular artists in the genre at the moment in Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen that he seems well positioned to become the next hitmaker in mainstream country.

Grade: 5/10

Album Review — Jon Pardi’s ‘Heartache Medication’

On Jon Pardi’s last album California Sunrise, he made traditional country feel accessible and fun at times. On his new album Heartache Medication, he delivers an album that is very country, but leaves me a lot of the time saying to myself, “eh, it’s fine.” Opening track “Old Hat” is a song I’m very familiar with, as I covered it when I reviewed Jeff Hyde’s 2018 album Norman Rockwell World. It’s a great song about hanging onto some of the old traditions of being a gentleman and I love that Pardi kept that clean guitar sound to open the song. But I must admit I prefer the Hyde version of the song because it just fits Hyde’s voice better than Pardi’s, as it feels like Pardi is stretching it at times.

The album’s title track is your classic heartbreak drinking song, turning to the bar to heal a broken heart. It’s a solid song with nice production and a catchy hook. On an album full of these songs, it’s one of the better ones for sure. “Nobody Leaves a Girl Like That” is another well-trodden theme in country music: a man looking back in regret at leaving a woman who he realized was great. This is the first of many moments on the album where I say, “eh it’s fine,” because Pardi does nothing to make the song stand out. I’ve heard this done better so many times in country music and I’m left expecting more. It’s not bad, but it’s not something I find myself clamoring to hear again.

In fact, let’s just get this out of the way now about all the songs on the album that fit this description because I don’t feel like repeating myself paragraph after paragraph. Here’s all the songs on this album that cover an over-covered theme in country music that are fine, but Pardi does nothing to make standout amongst the best versions of these songs: “Ain’t Always the Cowboy,” “Me and Jack,” “Tied One On,” “Oughta Know That,” “Buy That Man a Beer,” “Call Me Country” and “Love Her Like She’s Leaving.” So that’s 8 out of 14 tracks on this album. 14 tracks are already too long for most albums, but when you have nearly 60% of the album of songs that are just fine it feels even longer to get through.

As for the rest of this album: “Don’t Blame It On Whiskey” sees Pardi joined by Lauren Alaina and these two just don’t sound good together. Their voices are like oil and water, as Alaina’s voice pairs better with a deeper male voice and Pardi’s voice would be better suited with someone like Ashley McBryde or Brandi Carlile. “Tequila Little Time” is without a doubt the best moment on this album for me and that’s because this is one of the few moments Pardi puts a fresh taste on an old theme. I love both the horns playing the song in and the play on words in the hook of the song, as it’s both catchy and clever. This is right out of the Midland playbook and why I like their new album. This is what Pardi needs to have more of on his next album.

“Love Her Like She’s Leaving” is another moment that works well on this album because of the production. The fiddle and steel guitar give the song a smooth and pleasing sound, while complimenting the feel of the lyrics too. Closing song “Starlight” is about feeling the presence of higher powers like angels and God. I enjoy this because the lyrics avoid the typical pitfalls of these type of songs and feels like a genuine proclamation from Pardi. The electric guitar and steel guitar also compliment each other well.

Ultimately, Heartache Medication is an album that lacks standout moments and plays it too safe in regards to the themes. The traditional sound is great, but most of the songwriting on this album leaves a lot to desire. It was my biggest issue on his last album too. While this album is by no means bad, I wouldn’t call it good either, as I think Jon Pardi is capable of delivering something better.

Grade: 6/10

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 Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [March 6]

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. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 (Up 1)
  2. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 (Up 3)
  3. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 
  4. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 
  5. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 (Down 4)
  6. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (Up 1)
  7. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 2)
  8. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 [Best Song]
  9. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” (Up 1)
  10. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Down 4) 
  11. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 
  12. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 
  13. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”
  14. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road” -5 (Up 1) [Worst Song]
  15. Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” -3 (Down 1)
  16. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”
  17. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Up 1)
  18. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 (Down 1)
  19. Luke Combs – “Hurricane” -1
  20. Dan + Shay – “How Not To” +1 (Up 2)
  21. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Down 1)
  22. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 (Down 1)
  23. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” 
  24. Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good” -4 (Up 2)
  25. Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It” -2 (Down 1)
  26. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 (Down 1)
  27. Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter” -5 (Up 1)
  28. Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” -2 (Re-Enters Top 30)
  29. Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man” +4 (Up 1)
  30. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” +2 (Down 3)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -24

The pulse drops five spots this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Runaway June – “Lipstick” +3

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” – Up 3 from #5 to #2
  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” – Up 3 from #31 to #28

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Runaway June – “Lipstick” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Little Big Town – “Better Man” – Down 4 from #1 to #5
  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” – Down 4 from #6 to #10

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

  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” (Radio and Blake just can’t bear the thought of one week in the top 30 without a single from him, so chart jacking!)
  • Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” (This one appears to be out of gas now. We’ll see if EMI fights to keep it alive)
  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance” (The Fritos song finally appears done. No one will remember it)
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine” (54 weeks. I bet it’ll reach the top 10 in another 25 weeks)
  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
  • Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” (You can start panicking and worrying, Miranda fans. I’m being generous putting it here and not above because this is surrounded by radio darlings. Not good.)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Backstreet Boys) – “God, Your Mama, and Me”
  • Cole Swindell – “Flatliner”
  • Blake Shelton – “Every Time I Hear That Song”
  • Brothers Osborne – “It Ain’t My Fault”

 

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

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio [February 27]

little-big-town-better-man

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. Little Big Town – “Better Man” +2 
  2. Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night” +1 
  3. Michael Ray – “Douchey Pickup Song” -5 
  4. Brad Paisley – “Today” +2 
  5. Jon Pardi – “Dirt on My Boots” +1 
  6. Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl” -1 (Up 1) 
  7. Luke Bryan – “Fast” -1 (Up 2)
  8. Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill A Word” +4 [Best Song]
  9. Lauren Alaina – “Road Less Traveled” -2 (Up 2)
  10. Jason Aldean – “Any Ol’ Barstool” 
  11. Kelsea Ballerini – “Yeah Boy” -5 (Up 2)
  12. Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend” -5 
  13. Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl” (Up 2)
  14. Kenny Chesney – “Bar at the End of the World” -3 
  15. Sam Hunt – “Body Like a Back Road” -5 (Up 3) [Worst Song]
  16. Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”
  17. Dierks Bentley – “Black” -2 (Up 2)
  18. High Valley – “Make You Mine” -2 (Down 1)
  19. Luke Combs – “Hurricane” -1 (Up 1)
  20. Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her” +4 (Up 2)
  21. Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl” +1 
  22. Dan + Shay – “How Not To” +1 (Up 1)
  23. Darius Rucker – “If I Told You” (Up 1)
  24. Rascal Flatts – “Yours If You Want It” -2 (Up 1)
  25. Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven” +3 (Up 1)
  26. Lady Antebellum – “You Look Good” -4 (Up 1)
  27. Miranda Lambert – “We Should Be Friends” +2 (Up 1)
  28. Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter” -5 (New to Top 30)
  29. Runaway June – “Lipstick” +3 (Up 1)
  30. Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man” +4 (Re-Enters Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Radio: -19

The pulse improves six spots this week.

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” -5
  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” -2

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter”
  • Zac Brown Band – “My Old Man”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Keith Urban (feat. Carrie Underwood) – “The Fighter” – Up 5 from #33 to #28
  • Sam Hunt – “Body Like A Back Road” – Up 3 from #18 to #15

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Dustin Lynch – “Seein’ Red” – Out of the Top 30 & Done
  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know” – Out of the Top 30 (#31)

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

  • Blake Shelton – “A Guy With A Girl”
  • Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
  • High Valley – “Make You Mine”
  • Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”
  • Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
  • Runaway June – “Lipstick”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Brantley Gilbert – “The Weekend”
  • Garth Brooks – “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know”
  • Cole Swindell – “Flatliner”
  • Florida Georgia Line (feat. Backstreet Boys) – “God, Your Mama, and Me”
  • Blake Shelton – “Every Time I Hear That Song”

 

Call me crazy, but is this gerrymandering really helping anyone? What is the point of all this blatant chart jacking?

 

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