Drownin on a Mountaintop

Hardy and the Hardknocks / T. Hardy Morris

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Drownin on a Mountaintop Review

by Mark Deming

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Neil Young took the country-leaning band from Harvest, recorded them after they all got wobbly on tequila like his crew on Tonight's the Night, and then tore through a set of loose-limbed, twang-infused rockers like American Stars 'N Bars? In the unlikely event this question has ever troubled you, T. Hardy Morris and his band, recording as Hardy and the Hardknocks, have re-created this grand experiment in a recording studio -- or at least that's how it sounds on Morris' 2015 album Drownin on a Mountaintop. To be fair, Morris doesn't sound like he's obsessed with Neil Young on this set, but he sure seems like a kindred spirit. Morris is clearly in love with the cry of a pedal steel guitar but just as fond of the bark of an electric six-string plugged into a big amp, and like Neil he's powerfully infatuated with classic country sounds but eager to attack his songs with the gusto of a beer-swilling garage band. Simply put, Morris wants to play country-rock that honestly rocks, and that's exactly what he delivers on Drownin on a Mountaintop; Morris' vocals are all high-attitude Southern wail with a raunchy guitar sound to match, while Matt "Pistol" Stoessel makes his pedal steel sing sweet, dirty, and pretty, and bassist Vaughan Lamb and drummer Nick Sterchi kick out some serious jams while keeping the band in fourth gear. And Morris is a fine songwriter who can deliver a 2 a.m. weeper like "Quieter (When I Leave Town)" with the same conviction as the grungy rocker "Likes of Me," the Dixie-fried stomp of "Littleworth," and the barroom ballad "Just Like the Movies." Street-smart, funny, and not afraid to indulge their heart and soul, Hardy and the Hardknocks prove hot-wired country-rock is alive and kicking on Drownin on a Mountaintop, with its twangy accents as potent and joyous as the guitars and drums.

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