Review by Peter Coates – www.facebook.com/InsideEdgePhotography
The Mockingbird & The Crow
Released – Jan 20th 2023
Universal Music – Big Loud Records
Philadelphia Singer-songwriter (Michael) HARDY made a name for himself in 2020 with his debut album A ROCK, which showcased his genre-blending ability. In this new era of HARDY music, HARDY continues to prove why he is one of the best songwriters in the country music genre and one of the most entertaining performers. While Sold Out set the stage, Wait In The Truck (feat. Lainey Wilson) further proved that the singer-songwriter has what it takes to go the distance.
He moved to Nashville in 2017 and wrote for Florida Georgia Line and Morgan Wallen before landing his own deal, and he has now written songs for some of the current Country music greats, including the epic God’s Country for Blake Shelton, and won the 2022 ACM Songwriter of the Year award. He provided a different spin on normal releases through his HIXTAPE compilations featuring the great and good of country music that got released through COVID lockdowns.
HARDY has generated a wide range of opinions in the industry, and I have read some utterly scathing reviews of this album already, berating him for not being true to either country, or rock, for melding country, hip-hop and metal, for being part of the ‘bro-country’ scene that is more commercial than true to the country roots. There is much worse said about the country / rock crossover HARDY, but let’s avoid too much intellectualising here – this is supposed to be light entertainment after all, and what HARDY certainly does is write some very listenable, radio-friendly, well-produced songs that has been able to span a number of popular music genres. He’s not the first to do this stuff, and he won’t be the last. Producer Joey Moi has a background with Nickelback which is evident from the back half of the record, and we have just seen Brantley Gilbert announced as the main support for the next Nickelback US Tour.
The album itself is in effect a double album of tracks split between a light and dark character, being the Mockingbird and the Crow, and is a true crossover record between modern radio-friendly country music, and balls-out heavy rock – which was initially evidenced in his recent cover of forgotten Puddle of Mudd rocker Blurry, which was perhaps the first indication of the alternate rockier road HARDY was heading down.
The first 8 tracks are the Country side of the album, full of great lyrics, melodies and the stories for which his writing is now well known, and Beer opens the show treading a familiar route with a real Southern good-time grit, and a rumbling bass and drums backing which adds weight to the tone. Morgan Wallen joins up for Red which is a lighter piece, full of blue-collar, tractor-driving, dirt-road, small-town living lyrics involving the colour Red, and that big sky sound through the chorus. Another collaboration, this time with Lainey Wilson is up next with Wait In the Truck which was an earlier single release, is a very stripped-back track that allows the guest vocalist to shine, and there is some tasty gospel backing to the latter half of the song. The same feel runs through Drink One For Me and I In Country with light and shade throughout, and big country choruses, treading familiar lyrical ground to the Lukes (Combs and Bryan), with some gentle lap steel guitars running through the melody that increases the country feel.
There is more intensity in the guitars and the overall sound of Screen which falls into the category of top-down, dirt-road cruising anthems, and lets the band express themselves with a dose of attitude. Happy dips back into the lighter side of country ballads, and is the only song written by HARDY alone, while the polarising lyrics to Here Lies Country Music have given rise to vitriolic reviews of HARDY’s use of all the country music cliches in a song that laments the supposed death of the genre, from someone who is an example of corporate Nashville at its worst. Forget that stuff, and enjoy the beautiful steel guitars and the emotion in the delivery of a really easy country ballad.
At the mid-point of the record we get the title track – not very subtly signifying the cross-over from country-boy to darker rockstar vibes. The Mockingbird & The Crow is very much a song of two sides, a soft-country ballad, and a post-grunge rocker in the vein of POD, Puddle of Mudd and yes eve the much-hated Nickelback. Sold Out is just an absolute belter of a rock song, and I cannot wait to hear this live at CMC Rocks in March – I hope to hear the Willowbank crowd roaring “Hardy Hardy Hardy” over the intro, and to feel the power of the guitars, bass and drums when the band kicks in for the chorus – makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand out now.
HARDY’s latest single release, Jack, is just icing on the cake, with the distinct lyrics that pull listeners into that classic rock feel, but the distorted guitar and drums scream hard classic rock, and all help to tell the dark story of family alcoholism. Along with Truck Bed, this softer modern rock blend with country is perhaps the truest representation of what HARDY is really aiming for. This is not a million miles from a number of other country acts, who may be lightweight on record, and then you see them live with heavy backing, twin lead-guitars, and all the rock-star sounds and shapes. At least HARDY is putting this on the records too!
HARDY strays into Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy territory with .30-06 with a real pop-punk feel, while the bombastic nu-metal sound is in full flow with I Ain’t In The Country No More which will be another monster of a live track. I reckon HARDY could do an equally fantastic version of this track as a purist country song, but it has so much power in this heavier delivery.
Radio Song is not the first or last collaboration between country and extreme metal – Cory Marks and Five Finger Death Punch for example, and the country verse / pre-chorus is pure class, which then sees the most outrageous switch into hardcore with Jeremy Manning from A Day To Remember delivering the x-rated language and screamo-growls. This will either clear the crowd at CMC Rocks, or will create the first Circle Pit! I sort of hope that Kill Sh!t Till I Die has HARDY’s tongue firmly in cheek along with the chewing tobacco, but has a killer riff to go with the chorus, and some quality melodic guitar licks under the verses.
Album closer is The Redneck Song, which is an unapologetic anthem for the stereotypical country-boy life, featuring a rollicking beat, some straight-up guitar solos, with a bit of fun thrown into the mix, and a double-time boogie segment as the crescendo to the finish. Theis track rounds out the whole album quite well, and would be equally at home on the country side, in an Earl Dibbles Jr vein on a Granger Smith record.
Whatever your feelings about this record are, it should be regarded as a standout pair of albums from an important and disruptive songwriter / performer in the music industry today. Country fans should really enjoy the first half of the record, and may choose to leave it that. I suspect rock/metal fans of the Nickelback camp might see this as insincere or a blatant cash grab for commercial rock radio status, but if you simply listen to the Crow side of the package, you won’t fail to enjoy the energy and power of the generally lightweight rock/metal sound, and the HARDY lyrics remain true to form, and there is always melody in the mix.
There has been cross-over in music from day one, and in many cases the protagonists were the catalyst for musical progression rather than the cause of the death of any genre – so let’s salute Michael HARDY for refusing to stick to the rules, and for delivering what may just be the standout country / rock album of the year.
Sold Out Video :
Purchase Album and Merch :
HARDY is appearing at CMC Rocks in March, and has sold out shows with Morgan Wallen around the festival.
Wed 15 Mar, 2023 Spark Arena, Auckland – Lic. All Ages
Tue 21 Mar, 2023 Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney – Lic. All Ages
Wed 22 Mar, 2023 Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney – Lic. All Ages
Fri 24 Mar, 2023 Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne – Lic. All Ages
Sat 25 Mar, 2023 Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne – Lic. All Ages