Country Jukebox Jury LPs – Lauren Alaina and Hardy

Lauren Alaina – Getting Over Him EP

This EP follow the Getting Good EP in a common release pattern for country acts like Maddie & Tae who prefer five-song drops to satiate their fanbase. Notably, Lauren has popped up as a guest vocalist on hits by Kane Brown (What Ifs) and Hardy (One Beer), as well as album cuts by Dustin Lynch (Thinkin Bout You) and Chris Young (Town Ain’t Big Enough).

The EP’s lead single is Run, which takes the word ‘run’ and runs with it, in the way Nashville songwriters love to focus in on all possible angles on a particular word or phrase. As the clock is running, we run like hell.

Getting Over Him is excellent, a thrusting rebound song with enormous guitars, the polar opposite of Run. Lauren’s vocal is as sleeky as Maren Morris’ except Lauren can hit every note spot on. The role of the man is played by Jon Pardi, whose delivery is awesome too. Never has a one-night stand sounded so fun.

A Bar Back is someone who puts drinks together, rather than the bartender who takes the orders. It is a wonderful title and the song is about giving things back after breaking up with someone, except Lauren wants her bar back. I am sure this has some personal slant for Lauren, who broke off an engagement last year.

Lauren wrote that with Jon Nite, David Garcia and Hillary Lindsey, who is incapable of writing a bad song. It’s interesting that Lauren, whose voice is very close in pitch to Carrie’s, is writing with them, but since Lauren also releases music through Simon Cowell’s 19 label. I don’t think autotune is necessary on any of Lauren’s terrific vocals, much as Carrie and Dolly do.

If I Was a Beer is co-written by Lauren with Garcia, who is Carrie Underwood’s producer and, of all people, Hardy. You can tell it is because of the silky riff running underneath Lauren’s vocal about ’11 good friends by my side waiting their turn’. Girl as beer is a fun image.

Seen You in Your Hometown is a funky pop song over three chords in which Lauren extols the virtues of a boy who is different from the loud football-playing jock when he goes back to mama. A good premise and very country, even if the production is poppy thanks to Paul DiGiovanni, the man who has made Dan + Shay sound like the future of commercial country music, for good and ill.

What Do You Think Of is a fascinating reminiscin’ song full of details inspired by Lauren’s life, I reckon. Lauren came up as a teenager on American Idol so she has an audience in the pop sphere; because she has a twang and is from Georgia, it makes sense to market her to country radio but with Lukas Graham on this song popping up it’s clear where she is heading. The chords and chorus melody are gorgeous and if Lauren plays the long game (she’s still only 25) she can be a star of the era. She needs a few more radio hits, like Carrie, but she is an electric personality and the pride of Georgia. 4/5.

Hardy – A Rock

Hardy landed in my consciousness when I heard the demo to the song Up Down, where his voice was processed through a vocoder. I did not like it one bit. I preferred Rednecker, his anthemic tune which invented a word, rednecker as a comparative adjective for redneck. The song – which included the line ‘I piss where I want to and I fish where I swim’ – stalled at 26 on country radio.

Hardy is the redneckest in fact, and beloved by many artists for writing hits for them. Here is a snapshot of his success, all achieved before he turns 30 on September 13. After graduating with a degree in commercial songwriting, Hardy has written plenty of songs by Florida Georgia Line including four huge hits of theirs: Up Down, Y’All Boys, Simple and Talk You Out Of It. Blake Shelton had Hell Right (Hardy’s personal catchphrase) and God’s Country which, like Chris Lane’s I Don’t Know About You and Locash’s One Big Country Song, gave Hardy another number one record as a songwriter. Only Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett are in his class as a writer-performer.

And Morgan Wallen. Morgan used five Hardy co-writes on his number one debut album If I Know Me, including the title track, Happy Hour, Had Me By Halftime and Whatcha Know Bout That. New song More Than My Hometown is another Hardy co-write which is hurtling up the chart. The pair were due to come to the UK in May 2020 but the pandemic scuppered that. If Hardy comes to London in 2021, I will be there with bells on.

Hardy is a prolific writer whose songs have been picked by many of the artists who guested with him on the Hixtape collection from last year. Jameson Rodgers actually took Some Girls off the shelf, having bagsied it for a few years, and that single is all over radio now. A Rock emerges after that mixtape, which as well as Rodgers, Wallen and Thomas Rhett featured the likes of Keith Urban, Cole Swindell, Dustin Lynch and even Joe Diffie.

His two EPs have included songs called Throwback, Signed, Sober You, This Ole Boy and All She Left Was Me, piquing the interest of one listener at a time. Many of them are assisted by the type of programmed rock guitars you get on Morgan Wallen and Florida Georgia Line songs, and have a lyrical content that appeals to the lucrative 18-35 demographic. Hardy might be the Lewis Capaldi of country music, if Luke Combs is clearly the Ed Sheeran.

One Beer is climbing up the charts, thanks to a blockbuster video and a quirky topic for a song: one beer turns into an unplanned pregnancy and a shotgun marriage. He told The Boot website that he is an admirer of Brad Paisley’s knack of mixing humour and heaviness. I admire Paisley too and I think Hardy is the closest thing to a country act (Luke Combs aside) who can bring in non-country fans. Even Florida Georgia Line, who have duetted with Jason Derulo, cannot compete with Hardy, who is rednecker than them.

A Rock contains songs which we have heard before the album’s release. Breakup song Boots begins with Hardy realising he woke up without taking his boots off after a heavy night and that he is more into drinking than spending time with his lady, making his exit speedy. I loved Give Heaven Some Hell, which is an ‘I’ll miss you brother’ weepie’ that is placed as the third track on the album, just after Boyfriend, a song about a man wanting to turn his status from In A Relationship to Married.

Having already written a song called 4X4, Truck is next on his list of modes of transport to use as subject matter. This is definitely a country song by Hardy: over a three-chord loop and with a gorgeous melodic shape, he universalises the ‘red white and blue collar’ bloke in every town in America whom you can judge by the contents of his truck. What a great premise. The chorus is enormous and I am sure many listeners in trucks will find much to love about a man who wears a trucker’s hat onstage.

Hillary Lindsey never writes a bad song, and she has written four pearls with Hardy on A Rock: Hate Your Hometown, Boots, One Beer and the terrific So Close, which is influenced by Def Leppard and contains the voice of Ashland Craft, a singer also on the Big Loud label. It’s a finely structured breakup ballad with an explosive chorus that fellow Big Loud acts (Morgan Wallen and Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen) would kill for. I wonder why Hardy chose to keep this one and the 11 others for himself.

Where Ya At is a lot of fun regardless of whether you have ‘hick in your blood’ or not and, in the way that Tim McGraw namechecked his label Big Machine, Hardy namechecks Big Loud. The pace is electric, though note that the drill sergeant middle section contains some swear words. This will be a live favourite wherever Hardy is at.

Ain’t A Bad Day is another interesting twist, as Hardy looks into his pit of despair after a breakup and realises today isn’t a bad time for Armageddon. It seems like a song that very lightly prompts people to seek advice for their demons and I hope the decade sees more of an awareness of this sort of thing in country music, which has spent a decade mostly saying that girls and trucks and beer are wonderful.

Like One Beer – which is about the perils or wonders of girls and trucks and beer – Broke Boy is a love song which begins at a party and leads to Hardy having a ‘Mississippi Queen’ in his bed. ‘I didn’t have a dime to my last name but she took mine’ is such a good lyric. Hate Your Hometown, is a kiss-off which uses the ‘I hope’ formula so beloved of songwriters. For a better kiss-off try He Went To Jared, a song from the Hixtape.

I was intrigued when I saw that track 11 is called Unapologetically Country As Hell. We’ve had these songs for decades and a keen listener can play Hick Bingo. The rules are simple: drink a shot of Florida Georgia Line’s own brand Campfire Whiskey when you hear ‘moonshine’, ‘truck’, ‘beer’, ‘Chevrolet’, ‘chicken’, ‘dogs’ and ‘George Jones’. Please don’t end up in hospital or play this game/ This is Rednecker part two, equally singalongable and targeted at the 18-35 demographic in Mississippi and other Southern states who may wish to purchase some merch with the phrase Unapologetically Country As Hell on it.

A Rock the song closes the album, on which Hardy thinks about life and stuff. The terrific song was brought into the world with an extraordinary music video. It’s country because it talks about skipping rocks on the water, being stuck between a rock and a hard place as a young adult, being alive on ‘a rock’ and eventually having your name written on a rock and placed on a tombstone. I wondered where the chorus would be and laughed when I heard him go la-la-la-la.

Hardy is doing all the right things and should be talked about in the same breath as Luke Combs. Above all, I believe Hardy’s music is a fair representation of himself. This isn’t a construct or a persona. Sometimes the songs can be sonically very similar, cranking up in the chorus and having Hardy shout-sing the lyrics rather than croon them, so perhaps 12 in a row is a bit too much without sonic variation. Lyrically there are love songs, break-up songs and those two Country Songs (Where Ya At and Unapologetically Country As Hell).

I have no hesitation giving this album 5/5 and hope you give it a go before he becomes famous like Luke Combs.

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