For nearly two decades T. Hardy Morris has been plying his trade in country/grunge groups Dead Confederate and The Redbelly Band. Combining the two disparate genres has been his forte and it’s a cocktail that he refuse to stop drinking on his second solo record. While his day job often veers into downcast psychedelic interludes and stoner-jams, Drownin On A Mountaintop displays a more upbeat and direct sound. Whether that was a conscious choice to focus on the songs themselves or because Morris ended up rush-recording the LP before the birth of his first daughter, the result is a rousing experience.
A scrambled dish of laid-back americana, flavoured with grunge and a slug or two of Jack Daniels, before being shoved through a distortion pedal, Drownin On A Mountaintop is still a pop record at heart with clever lines, and catchy licks throughout. While your traditional country fan might find it abrasive, followers of Neil Young (who’s never been afraid to play with the fuzz) will find plenty here to enjoy, as Hardy brilliantly combines laid back vocals with a grittier soundscape.
The tracklisting of an album can often be a neglected but Hardy provides a lesson in ordering here with softer moments such as Quieter (When I Leave Town) and Starting Gun providing some breathing space when squeezed between the breakneck anthems of My Me and Cut & Dry. What runs through all the songs though is the capacity to thrill, with Hardy combining aggressive hooks with the country staple sounds of the pedal steel guitar – which often ties together the songs perfectly.
Drownin On A Mountaintop oozes a laidback summertime feel and at times you wonder if they recorded the album and then left the vinyl out in the sun to bake in the heat. Perfect for escaping down a highway or chilling on the front porch (rocking chair recommended), it’s an album that sonically positions itself on the sunnier side of life, even if some of the lyrical content is downbeat.
It might have been a few years since Hardy attended school, but in My Me he’s perfectly encapsulated the feelings of disillusioned students who are struggling to find a voice everywhere. It’s been a winding journey on Hardy’s road to musical success but when he sings “I bent them rules until they broke”, schoolkids around the world might start to believe in his underdog story.
You can imagine Johnny Cash nodding appreciatively to the cutting Painted On Attitude and to album opener Young Assumption, which both tackle the ills of youth – perhaps he’s getting it of his system before parenthood knocks on the door? Often placing himself as the outcast, it will be interesting to see if the outsider appeal of his lyrics turns into something more maternal on his next record.
Steeped in southern rock, country and grunge, Hardy wears his influences on his sleeve but always manages to turn them into something exciting. Whether he’s thrashing, rodeo-swinging or romancing, Hardy has a knack of keeping the car on the road. In lesser hands some songs might have fallen apart, but it’s a controlled chaos that probably comes from years of hard slog touring with his band. The album ends with the wonderful Just Like The Movies, drawing to a close with the loved-up refrain of “Love is a language with no subtitles.” Like love, the record can be messy, thrilling and never quite on steady ground – but it’s worth it in the end.
‘Drownin On A Mountaintop’ is out now on Dangerbird Records. The full track-lising for the album is…
‘Painted on Attitude’
‘Likes of Me’
‘Quieter (When I Leave Town)’
‘S**t in the Wind’
‘Cut & Dry’
‘Drownin on a Mountaintop’
‘Just Like the Movies’