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 [December 1992]

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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. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from December 26, 1992. In honor of my ongoing chart request archive, this week’s chart goes out to commenter jmartin103. Thanks for reading jmartin103!

  1. Vince Gill – “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” +3
  2. Alan Jackson – “She’s Got The Rhythm (And I Got The Blues)” +3
  3. Garth Brooks – “Somewhere Other Than The Night” 0 (Since I don’t have the CD with this song on it, I have no clue what to grade this song. Of course it isn’t anywhere on the Internet and I haven’t heard it before so it’s not going to help or hurt the Pulse)
  4. Hal Ketchum – “Sure Love” +1 [Least Good Song] (It’s just more “meh” than outright bad)
  5. Clint Black – “Burn One Down” +4
  6. George Strait – “I Cross My Heart” +2
  7. Trisha Yearwood – “Walkaway Joe” +4
  8. Brooks & Dunn – “Lost & Found” +3 (One of the few B&D songs featuring Kix on lead vocals. I haven’t checked, does Kix still have more solo songs than Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line? Dead serious)
  9. Restless Heart – “When She Cries’” +3 (Probably too pop for 1992 but still a good song)
  10. Tracy Lawrence – “Somebody Paints The Wall” +3 (The George Jones version is obviously highly recommended as well)
  11. Randy Travis – “Look Heart, No Hands” +3
  12. Lee Roy Parnell – “Love Without Mercy” +2
  13. Reba McEntire – “Take It Back” +3 (Probably being a little gracious, but it is certainly fun)
  14. Sammy Kershaw – “Anywhere But Here” +3
  15. John Michael Montgomery Gentry – “Life’s A Dance” +4 [Best Song]
  16. Ricky Van Shelton – “Wild Man” +3
  17. Doug Stone – “Too Busy Being In Love” +1
  18. Tanya Tucker – “Two Sparrows In A Hurricane” +3
  19. Alabama – “I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” +4 (It’s a damn fun song with a good message. We CAN make them!)
  20. Diamond Rio – “In A Week Or Two” +3
  21. Little Texas – “What Were You Thinking” +3
  22. Travis Tritt – “Can I Trust You With My Heart” +2
  23. Chris LeDoux – “Cadillac Ranch” +3 (There’s a lot of big names that came from the 90’s, but ironically enough Chris was one of the first artists from before 2000 I ever listened to)
  24. John Anderson – “Let Go Of The Stone” +3 (The one, two, three punch of Tritt, LeDoux, and Anderson is just awesome)
  25. Wynonna – “My Strongest Weakness” +2
  26. Confederate Railroad – “Queen Of Memphis” +2
  27. Mark Collie – “Even The Man In The Moon Is Cryin’” +3
  28. Billy Dean – “If There Hadn’t Been You” +3 (Borderline +3. The production is a little too sleepy for my tastes)
  29. Suzy Bogguss – “Drive South” +3
  30. Wynonna – “No One Else On Earth” +4 (A.K.A, the better Wynonna song here)

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: +77

It’s getting a little cliché at this point, but there’s really not much else to say other than this is another great chart! A little bit of a step up from last week even if there still wasn’t a song here that outright blew me away. Even still, when you have artists like Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, George Strait, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, Reba, Sammy Kershaw, John Anderson, Chris LeDoux, Wynonna and SO many more cranking out at least great songs, there’s not much to complain about.

As an additional note, I have to say that the 90’s charts are always my favorite ones to listen to and rank. Sure, it’s not perfect, but nothing really is. These charts are always highly enjoyable and bring tons of great songs that are a better representation of country music than a lot of the stuff we have today.

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [June 2007]

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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. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from June 30th, 2007. In honor of my request backlog from a couple of weeks ago, this week’s chart goes out to Raymond. Thanks for reading Raymond!

  1. Brad Paisley – “Ticks” -1 (I’m sorry, for as humorous as Brad can be this just did nothing for me)
  2. Tracy Lawrence feat. Tim McGraw & Kenny Chesney – “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” +3
  3. Montgomery Gentry – “Lucky Man” +2
  4. George Strait – “Wrapped” +3 (Holy fiddle and steel Batman!)
  5. Emerson Drive – “Moments” +4
  6. Big & Rich – “Lost In This Moment” 0
  7. Billy Currington – “Good Directions” +3
  8. Keith Urban – “I Told You So” -2 [Worst Song] (The narrator’s arrogance just does nothing for me. I like the sound but that’s it)
  9. Alan Jackson – “A Woman’s Love” +1 (I like the bluesy feel. Just wish the theme was a little less conventional)
  10. Jake Owen – “Startin’ With Me” +4
  11. Jason Aldean – “Johnny Cash” +1 (Guilty pleasure…..sue me)
  12. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops On My Guitar” +2
  13. Kenny Chesney – “Never Wanted Nothing More” +2
  14. Tim McGraw & Faith Hill – “I Need You” +3 (So you guys both have an Uncle Joe in Oklahoma who needs rain huh? Kidding aside, this is solid)
  15. Rodney Atkins – “These Are My People” +2 (Yes, this is cliché as hell, but Rodney’s sincere delivery works for me. Plus that opening fiddle is just heavenly)
  16. Bucky Covington – “A Different World” +1 (Was he even old enough to know about all the things he’s singing about here? Regardless, at least it has a good sound)
  17. Craig Morgan – “Tough” +3
  18. Kellie Pickler – “I Wonder” +4 [Best Song]
  19. Eric Church – “Guys Like Me” +1
  20. Toby Keith – “High Maintenance Woman” +2 (I know this is a pretty well-known hated Toby song, but I think that the song isn’t meant to be taken that seriously. On that note, combined with the pretty good guitar work it passes for me)
  21. Reba & Kelly Clarkson – “Because Of You” +2
  22. Little Big Town – “A Little More You” +2
  23. Martina McBride – “How I Feel” -1
  24. Luke Bryan – “All My Friends Say” +3
  25. Sugarland – “Everyday America” 0 (Ugh, those Pop beats were unfortunately ahead of their time in country music. That of course means they were only slightly behind what pop was doing…)
  26. Jason Michael Carroll – “Livin’ Our Love Song” +1
  27. Cole Deggs and the Lonesome – “I Got More” +1 (Well, we had a guy whose name says “Cold eggs” and in the modern-day we have Colden Rainy Swindell. Go figure)
  28. Trace Adkins – “I Wanna Feel Something” +2
  29. Tim McGraw – “If You’re Reading This” +4 (Three times where McGraw is on the chart. It’s exactly like 2016! Not complaining though)
  30. Brooks & Dunn – “Proud Of The House We Built” +2 (Yes, it’s cheesy and corny as all hell. And yes, this is another song where I’m making excuses for why it works for me)

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +54

Well it would appear to be another good chart this week! In all honesty I was probably a little more forgiving of some of these songs than I should have been, but even before I became a hardcore country fan in 2010 I always had memories of some of these songs playing on my grandparent’s radio. Nostalgia admittedly gets in the way of some of these songs for me, but hey none of us are free from bias. I went with Kellie Pickler’s “I Wonder” for the best song honor since it came from a personal place and is excellent to boot. It was hard to pull off getting a song like that to be a single in 2007 and it’s pretty much impossible to do in 2016.

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!

Album Review – Tyler Farr’s ‘Suffer in Peace’

Tyler Farr began his career like many of his counter parts. He wrote some songs for Joe Nichols and Colt Ford, earned a record deal, and cashed in hard on bro-country. His first top-ten single (third overall single) “Redneck Crazy” helped Farr get noticed. His follow-up of “Whiskey in My Water” proved to be a worthy single to further establish Farr as a productive mainstream country act for his label. However, it appeared that Farr was just a one-trick pony riding the wave of country music’s newest fad. With that said, Farr showed a different side of himself on a new single ahead of new album, Suffer in Peace, and maybe silenced a bit of doubters. And there are just enough moments on Suffer in Peace to show that Tyler Farr is capable of more than bro-country.

Ironically though, you wouldn’t know it by the opening track. “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y.” is a song where Tyler Farr simply lists a ton of incoherent things that apparently make him country. And to be frank, you can’t even understand half of his list items because he screams almost all of it on top of heavy drum beats and guitars. Also Farr proudly exclaims how having “truck nuts” hanging on his pickup is something awesome and country. When I see truck nuts on someone’s truck, I don’t think you’re cool or country, I only think of a word that starts with a “D” and ends with an “ouche.” This is by far the worst song on the album, so we only go up from here.

Up next is “A Guy Walks Into a Bar.” Josh rightfully praised the song in his review for its writing and depth. It was a good cut by Farr for the album. The polished, rock/country blend of “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” finds itself on many of the other songs of Suffer In Peace. “Withdrawals” is a good example of that production; in fact, this sounds more like a straight rock song. Content-wise, Farr compares his love to drugs and booze, and how her leaving him is putting him in withdrawals. Yawn. I’m becoming very annoyed with this Ke$ha, “Your Love is my Drug” trope. I understand there’s an underlying pain to song’s sentiment, but it feels like a cheap way to tell a heartbreak story. Also it sounds like Tyler Farr is trying way to hard to evoke the emotion of the song; his vocal delivery on this track is off-putting to me.

Tyler Farr brings in Jason Aldean to help him out on a song called “Damn Good Friends.” Surprisingly, this song is actually kind of good. It carries many of the same themes from another friend song collaborations you may remember: Tracy Lawrence, Tim McGraw, and Kenny Chesney’s “Find Out Who Your Friends Are.” Farr calls his “damn good friends” after driving his car into a ditch while drinking and driving. Aldean calls his friends to back him up in a bar fight. The production is rather safe pop country, and the vocals for both Farr and Aldean work well on this track.  Following that is probably the best song of the entire album. “Suffer in Peace” is about Farr contemplating leaving town after a breakup. It tortures him to see her with another man, and he dreams of being out in the country, far away from it all where he can soul search and suffer in peace. This is how you tell a heartbreak story. The stripped down production aided by Tyler Farr’s vocal performance fit nicely with the material.

“Raised to Pray” is an interesting tune for me. On one hand, the song holds to religion proudly, even reflecting back on times where more devotion should have been given to reading the Bible. On the other hand though, the sentiment of being raised to pray seems to come off as an excuse for being reckless and sinful. The story is all over the place, not really developing anything to latch onto. The song just sort of hangs there in limbo. Also, the hip-hop effects added into the already overproduced rock production certainly doesn’t help its case. “Criminal” shuffles between a hip-hop infused verse melody, a decently country chorus production, and a rock and roll guitar solo. The song itself is about comparing a woman to a criminal because she stole all his bad days and left him with good ones. Overall, the song is weirdly aggressive for the point to come across clearly.

“Better in Boots” is your token, bro-country song. Attractive female? Check. Friday night? Check. Full moon? Check. A weird hip-hop infusion with the country? Check. This song is Tyler Farr trying to be hip and sexy, and he is neither of those things. It comes off as creepy more than anything. However, “Poor Boy” shows a better side of Farr singing a love song. This is simply about how Farr isn’t as wealthy as the girl he’s in love with, and the differences in their social class raises some eyebrows in her crowd. But those differences don’t matter to them because they have an honest love for one another. There’s a good amount of authenticity to the story’s sentiment. “Poor Boy” is on the positive side of Suffer in Peace.

Tyler Farr sings of heartbreak again in “I Don’t Even Want This Beer.” And again, this heartbreak song is well done. There’s a bit of hip-hop elements in the production, but that gets abandoned in the chorus. Farr sings of moping and drinking at a bar on a Tuesday while she moves on from the relationship. He knows that he should be calling her to apologize, but he just sits at the bar wondering why he’s there. I think his vocals here are good. The album ends with “Why We Live Here.” This is another anthem to living the simple life: a good house, loyal friends, freedom, baseball, and of course, beer. Farr gives thanks for these privileges and says we live here because God gifted it to us, and the sacrifices of the military protect those freedoms. The message of the song is nice, but it hits on way too many clichés and panders quite a bit to the south. It’s another list of things he does in the country, just with less attempts to sound bad ass as opposed to the opening track.

Overall Suffer in Peace shows two sides of Tyler Farr. There’s the side where he digs deep and shows some vulnerability with some good, well-written heartbreakers; the side the album is named for. Then you have the other side where Tyler Farr wants you to know how much of a cool, tough, country boy he can be; the side where the album’s picture of Farr on a 4-wheeler comes into play. This tough guy side comes off a bit trashy at times and isn’t anything new to the country music world. However, Farr separates himself a bit from his male counterparts with ballads that are spread throughout the album. While the production is rather consistent throughout, the drastic differences in attitudes and stories are a bit jarring when listening to it. Suffer in Peace is better than I thought it would be, but still doesn’t offer much more than a few songs worth listening to again.

Grade: 5/10

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [April 1993]

Every week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. It could be 10 years ago, 20 years ago or even further back. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. 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 +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated between 5 and 6.5 receive a 0. Songs rated 4.5 or lower receive a -1.

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. This week I take a look at the top 30 on the Country Airplay Chart from April 3, 1993. This is the first time the past pulse has went back to the 90s, so the chance of our best score yet is highly possible.

  1. Clint Black – “When My Ship Comes In” +1
  2. Garth Brooks – “Learning To Live Again” +1
  3. George Strait – “Heartland” +1
  4. Mark Chesnutt – “Ol’ Country” +1
  5. Pam Tillis – “Let That Pony Run” +1
  6. Brooks & Dunn – “Hard Workin’ Man” +1
  7. Reba McEntire & Vince Gill – “The Heart Won’t Lie” +1
  8. Tanya Tucker – “It’s A Little Too Late” +1
  9. Radney Foster – “Nobody Wins” +1
  10. Billy Ray Cyrus – “She’s Not Cryin’ Anymore” +1
  11. Sammy Kershaw – “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful” +1
  12. Tracy Lawrence – “Alibis” +1
  13. Restless Heart – “Mending Fences” +1
  14. Alan Jackson – “Tonight I Climbed The Wall” +1
  15. Hal Ketchum – “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” +1
  16. Mark Collie – “Born To Love You” +1
  17. Aaron Tippin – “My Blue Angel” +1
  18. Alabama – “Once Upon A Lifetime” +1
  19. Kathy Mattea – “Standing Knee Deep In A River (Dying of Thirst)” +1
  20. Trisha Yearwood – “You Say You Will” +1
  21. Lorrie Morgan – “What Part of No” +1
  22. Little Texas – “I’d Rather Miss You” +1
  23. Mary Chapin Carpenter – “Passionate Kisses” +1
  24. Doug Stone – “Made For Loving You” +1
  25. Lee Roy Parnell – “Tender Moment” +1
  26. Dwight Yoakam – “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” +1
  27. Neal McCoy – “Now I Pray For Rain” +1
  28. Gibson/Miller Band – “High Rollin'” +1
  29. John Michael Montgomery – “I Love The Way You Love Me” +1
  30. Dolly Parton – “Romeo” +1

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: +30

Perfect score! I knew we would find a chart with a +30 score. It was close on a couple of songs, but each song was good enough to merit a +1 from me. The songs that came close to getting a 0 were Hal Ketchum’s “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” and Mark Collie’s “Born To Love You.” None of the songs came I considered giving a -1. Last week we looked at March 2004 and I considered a +15 pretty good. But this point in time in country music was truly great. It’s really hard to choose my favorites from all of these. There’s a lot of variety too, with several female artists on it. Garth Brooks wasn’t starting to put out corny songs yet either. Can radio go back to these kinds of songs please?

As is now customary, fire away with your comments and questions about this week’s past pulse. Recognize some old favorites? Maybe a few you would like to not be reminded about?