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Review: Is HARDY’s ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’ the most daring & disruptive Country album ever?

Big Loud Records’ artist & writer HARDY has never been just one thing. Uncaging his next chapter on January 20, 2023, HARDY introduces ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’ his dichotomous, 17-track sophomore album and the follow up to critically acclaimed 2020 debut, ‘A ROCK’. HARDY is the reigning ACM Songwriter of the Year, the 2022 BMI Country Songwriter of the Year, and a two-time AIMP Songwriter of the Year.

Has there been a more influential writer in Country music these past five years? 10 number ones under his belt as a writer makes HARDY a bonafide unicorn. A disruptor who has helped shift Country music away from the clubs and R&B rhythms back to something more distinctly red around the neck. Why stop there? His ‘Hixtape’ collaborations have brought something new and original to Music Row and with the release of ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’, HARDY has turned his eyes towards the genre as a whole in what has to be one of the most audacious, ambitious and downright disruptive albums that Nashville has ever birthed.

I was fortunate to be part of a round robin interview group of a few journalists before Christmas that spoke to HARDY about this unicorn of an album. It was fascinating talking to him because I don’t think he’s fully realised what a dangerous and daring album ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’ is. In a genre that chases radio hits and big individual songs, HARDY has produced a concept album that blows the doors off everything that has gone before. The idea of the concept album and a project such as this is something that is relatively alien to Country music in a way that it isn’t in Rock, Pop and many of the other genres. The long form album in Country music isn’t as highly regarded as ‘the big hit’ so kudos to an artist like HARDY for really pushing the boundaries.

The first half of the album, the lower caps ‘mockingbird’ side, is redneck-leaning Country music. The album pivots around the title track, which is why the font of the song is half lower caps and half upper. The upper caps half, ‘THE CROW’, is Rock-based, metalcore. We’re talking full Slipknot screaming on some songs!! Some Creed-style 90’s overtones, a bit of college Rock and some Nickleback too. Speaking on the radical changes, HARDY is at pains for the listener to hear Country all the way through. “It’s half Rock n Roll and half of my spin on Country but even THE CROW side is rooted in Country music by its lyrics,” he told the round robin group. HARDY has also co-produced the album alongside head honcho Joey Moi , meaning that his vision is a strong, pure and authentic one.

The writing on ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’ is exceptional. Clever, intelligent and deeply personal. HARDY has a real knack for seeing a different point of view. On ‘red’, which is the melodic, anthemic future number one that he shares with Morgan Wallen, HARDY explores the meanings of the colour itself. ‘I ain’t talking politics, I’m talking small towns. It’s everywhere and ends up with a wind-torn flag,’ he sings. ‘screen’ inhabits a similar world. An atmospheric start, all chugging guitars, it walks the listener down the path towards a big, commercial chorus as HARDY explores all the different meanings of the word whilst on ‘i in country’, the only love song on the album, a gentle acoustic vibe gives way to a more explosive chorus and real ‘lighters in the air’ moment as HARDY states, ‘There ain’t no i in Country but there’s a u.’

Perhaps the cleverest song on ‘the mockingbird’ side is ‘happy’, which, ironically, is the only solo write on the album. Speaking on this, HARDY states, “It’s the first song I’ve written by myself since 2013! I wanted to know if I could still do it. I got a cut! I’m on the record!” There’s some expansive, lush production on this fascinating track that, at its heart, is just a simple, evocative song about the nature of the human condition. Mind you, if we are talking clever songs and exceptional writing we must also not discount ‘here lies country music’. What a banger this song is! “It had a good run,” HARDY sings, “The headlines said that the cause of death was a lonely broken heart!” A great melody and plaintive, mid-tempo vibes abound here on a song that leaves you wondering about the controversy and hornet’s nest that HARDY is seemingly stirring up. Is he calling out the very industry that puts money in his pocket? The very artists he co-writes with and sends his own songs too? No spoilers here but there is a reveal in the final third of the song that made me bang my first on the table as the twist is revealed. For those of you old enough to remember – let’s just say there’s a Dallas-style shower moment which put’s everything back in its rightful place.

Clever. Clever. Clever. (as is ‘Drink One for Me’ which is the direct sequel to ‘Give Heaven Some Hell’ from HARDY’s ‘A Rock’ album)

‘the mockingbird’ half also contains the very Johnny Cash-esque ‘wait in the truck’ which is steadily making its way up the charts towards that number one slot. The song was inspired, initially, by a guy who took a pass at HARDY’s wife, Caleigh, in a bar one night! After working on the idea with co-writers Hunter Phelps and Jordan Schmidt it morphed into a murder ballad and there was only one person that HARDY wanted on the song with him. “I knew that Lainey Wilson was the one person that everyone would believe in that song,” he told our interview group before Christmas.

Hardy
Credit: Ryan Smith

Elephant in the room time.

‘THE CROW’ half of the album is going to leave some people for dead. Some won’t make it to the end. Some listeners won’t have the patience for the decibel-shattering metalcore, the guitars, drums and the screaming that ‘THE CROW’ contains.

But it will pick up and bring in more fans and listeners than it alienates. Rock fans are going to love ‘THE CROW’. Artists like Kid Rock have proved that if you ground your music, particularly the themes and the lyrics, with relatable stories and immerse it in the Southern lifestyle, then there can be a cross-over between the two worlds of Country and Rock, which is exactly what HARDY has done.

The album turns around the title track, expertly placed midway through the proceedings. The country music and lower caps give way to the bombastic Rock stylings and upper caps of ‘THE CROW’ halfway through the song. From then on in it’s in-your-face loud guitars, gruff vocals and screamed choruses.

The writing on ‘THE CROW’ side is no less clever or impactful, however, so let’s get that second elephant in the room out right now. ‘Radio Song’, which features Jeremy McKinnon from A Day to Remember features a sort of sing/speak cadence and ‘airwaves friendly’ melody that is then completely and utterly destroyed by McKinnon’s screaming and an avalanche of ‘F words’! What a juxtaposition this is. “I’ve always been a fan of meta song lyrics and songs that are weird songs within a song,’ HARDY states about the fourth wall breaking, commercial Country meets GWAR style ‘Radio Song’. How audacious is that? ‘Kill Shit Till I Die’, meanwhile, builds slowly with a doom-laden, oppressive feel until it explodes in a delightfully redneck chorus about hunting replete with screams and abrasive guitars. A meeting of worlds, indeed.

Clever. Clever. Clever.

‘JACK’ is another fine example of HARDY’s writing talents. In it he personifies the drink itself. “I can fix your problems,’ he sings, ‘I’ve always got your back.” It’s a cautionary tale that is deeply personal to a singer who has often glorified drinking. “I drink but I have a family history of some people with alcohol problems, my mom especially,” he told the interview group I was part of. The Slipknot influences loom large on this track, as they do on ‘SOLD OUT’, a track that sees HARDY still singing about the Country lifestyle (rednecks and dead bucks). This may be Nu-Metal on the outside but the beating heart of ‘THE CROW’ is still as redneck South as you can get.

‘TRUCK BED’ and ‘.30-6’ are two sides of the same story. The former is a song about getting dumped which goes huge on its final chorus whilst ‘.30-6’ might well explain why the dumping occurred! There’s some serious Fall Out Boy or Sum41 vibes on the latter song that work terrifically well as HARDY, once again, mashes together a Country music lifestyle with a 90s Rock aural landscape.

Perhaps the pivotal moment on ‘THE CROW’ comes on album closer, ‘The Redneck Song’. We’ve already read about HARDY’s fascination with meta songs and songs within a song. He spends a large part of ‘the mockingbird’ personifying objects, feelings and emotions and here he closes down ‘THE CROW’ with something akin to a Gaelic sea shanty drinking song! “I’m po’dunk proud and I’ll shout it so loud you can hear it down in the holler,” he sings on a song that destined to become something of a live classic in his setlist for years to come.

Clever. Clever. Clever.

“No-one has accused me of ruining Country music yet,” HARDY told the interview group before Christmas. But some will. There will be naysayers, gatekeepers and traditionalists that will be appalled and incandescent about the very existence of ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW.’ At the very least I will recommend that you listen to ‘the mockingbird’ side of this lovingly produced and expertly written album if the Rock and Metal side is just too much for you. Maybe you can add ‘The Redneck Song’ on the end of it? After all that would make a long form collection all on its own. If you focus on listening to the songs rather than worrying about ‘what’ they are you’ll find quality, intelligence and melody running all the way through ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’. This is an exceptionally disruptive album but no-one and nothing ever progressed, evolved or grew out of comfort. Safety is the enemy of all creatives and HARDY is nothing if not a super-talented creative. Sit down, sit back, turn the music up loud and listen as these two birds go to war with each other.

HARDY
Credit: Big Loud Records

Tracklist: 1. beer 2. red 3. wait in the truck 4. drink one for me 5. i in country 6. screen 7. happy 8. here lies country music 9. the mockingbird & THE CROW 10. SOLD OUT 11. JACK 12. TRUCK BED 13. .30-6 14. I AIN’T IN THE COUNTRY NO MORE 15. RADIO SONG 16. KILL SHIT TILL I DIE 17. THE REDNECK SONG Release date: January 20th Record Label: Big loud Record Buy ‘the mockingbird & THE CROW’ now

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Big Loud Records' artist & writer HARDY has never been just one thing. Uncaging his next chapter on January 20, 2023, HARDY introduces 'the mockingbird & THE CROW' his dichotomous, 17-track sophomore album and the follow up to critically acclaimed 2020 debut, 'A ROCK'. HARDY is the...Review: Is HARDY's 'the mockingbird & THE CROW' the most daring & disruptive Country album ever?