Somewhere in the middle of Hardy & The Hardknocks’ set last Saturday at Bragg Jam in Macon, I suddenly felt like I was in some kid’s basement 30 years ago; he and his friends have just realized that there really aren’t any rules to rock and roll (fuck the school band too), and his parents upstairs are stoned out of their minds, glued to the television.
And then I was back in Grant’s Lounge, a historic dive that nearly closed after a shooting out front in 2014. Just before T. Hardy Morris and his band took the stage, I ordered a bourbon and water (for a friend, I swear), and the bartender scowled at the thought of adulterating the bourbon, but he finally put a splash of water in the cup, and I worked my way to the front.
Hardy and The Hardknocks might play with the reckless abandon of teens in a basement — “He’s drunk!” yelled some guy right behind me (“No, you are,” I almost said) — but there’s a biting precision in this latest project and on the stellar new album Hardy & the Hardknocks: Drownin on a Mountaintop on Dangerbird Records. A review at No Depression calls the sound “garage country”. In a lengthy interview with Paste, Morris goes for “country grunge” — “crunge.” I’d call it “southern grunge” instead — the music just seems rooted more in southern rock than in country (although that pedal steel from Matt “Pistol” Stoessel sure evokes country…).
Whatever we decide to call the sound, it’s fascinating to see Morris at this point. He may look like a kid who needs a big X on his hand in a bar, but he has fronted Dead Confederate for many years. He’s part of the rollicking Diamond Rugs. He did some dreamy folk several years ago before turning out the magnificent solo album Audition Tapes, the songs from which were used for a series of videos filmed at Georgia’s Places in Peril. He and The Hardknocks played a brilliant set at Savannah’s Revival Fest in 2014.
The new songs on Drownin on a Mountaintop feel like both a logical progression of all those projects and at the same time like a necessary, timely step back into early grunge, including the emotional alienation at its heart.
“The whole grunge thing just went to shit real fast,” Morris told Paste earlier this summer. “You know, bands like the Meat Puppets, who had kind of done it before, were doing cool stuff and then Nirvana blew it up. Besides bands like Sonic Youth and a few other lesser-known bands—I don’t know that that sound got explored quite the way it should have.”
Check out the paranoid lyrics of the title track:
And listen to the sneering anger in “Painted on Attitude”:
At Bragg Jam, Hardy & The Hardknocks began with the sometimes-laconic “Young Assumption” (“I’d just as soon stay home”), ripped through some of the best songs off the new record (though it’s hard to pick favorites off such a cohesive record), and grunged down “Share the Needle” and “Disaster Proof” from Audition Tapes.
Drownin on a Mountaintop closes with a lilting, wistful ballad — “Just Like The Movies”. In the poetic album liner notes, Patterson Hood lingers over the beauty of the final refrain: “Love is a language with no subtitles.” Throughout the album, there’s an implicit acknowledgment that there are unbreachable gulfs all around us, but the sheer energy of the music rejects abject isolation.
Where next for T. Hardy Morris? Apparently these songs were recorded before his baby was born last year, and that will change things for sure, right?
I took some photos (including one of the set list I grabbed), so click on through for more: