I had no idea who this guy was.

After conversing with Ebie in the business office of Staples/The Crypt, I entered the outer ring, backstage but not a dressing room, where the hangers-on hang out. And this guy started talking to me. He looked like a guy I’d hang out with in college. His big black spectacles were noticeable, but he had no attitude, no airs. I figured he was just another member of the entourage.

But then he told me he was an artist. Had written a number of hits.

Yeah, right.

And I ask him where he’s from and he says…Philadelphia.

Makes sense to me, except he’s talking about Philadelphia, Mississippi. I’ve actually been to Mississippi, it’s Memphis adjacent, but I can’t say I’ve ever known anybody from Mississippi. It’s a parallel universe. Where they keep trying to keep the Blacks down. High poverty rate. Low standards of educational achievement.

It was cognitive dissonance, this guy was anything but hick.

So I ask him about his journey. He’s telling me about a relative in Nashville and how he goes there to try his hand at songwriting and it was all so casual that it just didn’t square. If you were such a big swinging dick why have I never heard of you? I mean this guy is even talking about awards.

But these days someone can have a number one and not only have you never heard of them, you’ve never heard the record.

Just another wannabe.

But he told me he was performing that night, he’d written with Morgan Wallen, he was the middle act. And he ultimately took the stage and it was so loud and in-your-face that not only did it not sound like country, it was just a wash of noise, I didn’t get it.

But recently this guy has gotten a slew of press far outstripping his status in the business. I wouldn’t say he’s everywhere, but he’s getting featured in outlets that seem like they’d keep him at arm’s length, like the “New Yorker.”

I saw they did a story on him. I was too busy to read the story online. I waited for the magazine to come. And today after reading periodical after periodical I dove into the “New Yorker,” and read about the death of the humanities at colleges and HARDY.

That humanities article deserves its own screed. Did you know the state only pays 9% of ASU’s budget? These state universities… They’re so far from free. And if you’re gonna end up with a ton of debt you might as well study something practical, so you can pay it back and live your life, get married, buy a house and have children.

And then I read about HARDY.

And the content was interesting, although it was overwritten with no zest, no pizzazz, rock is supposed to electrify your body, excite you, enable you to transcend everyday life. And the writer said that half of HARDY’s album was rock. You know, the dying format.

There’s Active Rock, which is loud and fast and the singer screams and shouts and it’s a niche. And then there are a ton of imitations of what once was. They’re retreads, not new.

So the article said the first half of HARDY’S new album was country, and the second half was rock.

I was stretching and I just pulled up “the mockingbird & THE CROW” on Spotify.

The first cut was “beer.” Actually, I remembered this from the live show. Not that it’s hard to remember a song about beer.

The next cut featured Morgan Wallen.

Okay, this was country, what about the second half of the LP, the rock half?

Not that the country songs were unpalatable. Actually, they had the essence of Morgan Wallen, as in they were catchy.

So the first truly rock song is “SOLD OUT.” And I’m listening and I hear echoes of Kid Rock. Sans the hip-hop. But with the intensity, which you know if you’ve ever seen Bob live.

Okay, I’ve got it. I click to the next track, “JACK,” which is from the perspective of the whiskey itself.

And the first thing I notice is the guitar figure. It’s electric, but it’s simple, it hooks you, no effort is required to get it.

“Hey kid, let me introduce myself

I’m a friend of your dad’s when he had no one else

I’ll put the party in your life boy, you know I can

Have you ever wanted to feel like Superman”

Speaking of college… I went in the dark era, when there was no internet, not even DVDs, not even TV in this hamlet in Vermont. And at the end of freshman year they changed the state’s policy, you could drink at 18, and we did, we threw away our dope (well, not literally) and went down to the Alibi, which resembled a malt shop, albeit with alcohol, and got drunk and had fun. Dope put you to sleep, alcohol livened you up, you might have the best night of your life. And if you were down in the dumps, maybe the drink would help.

The following song was “TRUCK BED,” a concept that immediately puts you off, but there’s that hypnotic guitar and…then it occurs to me. Wait a second, this stuff is DIFFERENT!

It takes forever to get into most new albums, but every cut resonates.

And I’m thinking back to that conversation at Staples/the Crypt and I remember, HARDY radiated intelligence. And that’s rare in today’s mainstream music world. Sure, there are complaining alternative acts that are smart, but their music is unpalatable.

But HARDY definitely sounds like he’s from the south. And this is not the Allman Brothers. Which is actually good, HARDY is just not repeating a formula. There’s definitely a wise sensibility emanating from the tracks, the lyrics are not pablum…

Well, there’s that shout like Kid Rock, guitar figures akin to “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” like so many rock records, but it still sounds new. And there are changes. Yes, these are songs.

And then I start thinking of the audience. Youngsters are alienated. They need something to relate to. Especially those who are not cool, who are not on the football team, are not number one in their class, who are not influencers, who is speaking to them? NOBODY! They’re a forgotten generation. But you could be at home and put on HARDY and think someone was on your team. Not someone trying to become a brand (not yet, anyway), who was not pandering like in all those country songs written by committee about babies, pickups, religion… They try to be broad and appeal to everybody, but really they appeal to nobody, because they’re not authentic, not specific. Which is why Chris Stapleton is the most revered act in Nashville. He’s talented and uncompromised. And HARDY is not making the same music and certainly is not appealing to the same audience…

I ask you, are you angry? Do you remember when music was your religion, when you put it on and felt all powerful, when it made you happy, when it was more than rhythm…

Well, that’s HARDY, check him out.

P.S. My favorite cut is “I AIN’T IN THE COUNTRY NO MORE.” If you’re a rocker, if you wince and then smile when you hear a power chord, this might be right up your alley.

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