Ever since launching the Dead Peasants in 2010, Chris Shiflett has leaned toward the rootsier side of alt-country, keeping the sounds of Bakersfield and Outlaw alive in the 2010s. That's not precisely what he does with Hard Lessons. His second solo album and second record produced by Dave Cobb finds Shiflett gilding his twang a bit with bolder colors and louder guitars. The shift is evident from the moment Hard Lessons opens with the stomping "Liar's Word," an arena rocker that suggests Shiflett may have learned some Mellencamp moves from Kip Moore. Shiflett largely avoids this kind of over-amplified heartland rock elsewhere on Hard Lessons, preferring to crank his amps to approximate hook-heavy classic rock and swampy jams instead of following clean lines. As it turns out, this kind of '70s AOR celebration is an ideal accent to Shiflett's signature classic country revival. Both aesthetics lend themselves to tight, melodic songs and give him and his band plenty of space to rave. While Hard Lessons has plenty of riffs and solos, it's not an album where six-strings are pushed to the forefront: they're merely the fuel for a good old-fashioned barn-burner of a rock record. It's the kind of sunny, burly record that gets the business done so efficiently (the album lasts a little over a half-hour) that you want to start it all over again once it's done spinning.
Hard Lessons Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine