HARDY. ERNEST. To be honest, my country music brain can’t seem to separate the two. They both go by only one name. They both insist it’s spelled in all caps. They’re both branches on the Morgan Wallen tree in large measure. They both are mainstream country songwriters who are unafraid of mixing rock and hip-hop into their music. And they both will randomly haul off and record a straight up traditional country song that throws your world for a loop and has you wondering just what the hell you’re supposed to think about them.
A couple of weeks ago, HARDY announced a new album called The Mockingbird and THE CROW to be released on January 20th, 2023, and released three preview songs with it. One of them is called “here lies country music,” and similar to ERNEST’s “Flower Shops,” it’s a straight ahead traditional country song. Composed as a (*Spoiler Alert*) dream sequence where HARDY laments the death of country music, it has compelled the ears and hearts of many traditional country music fans, some of whom are just happy to get the song, and some that are conflicted because the author is, well, HARDY.
However, the difference between “here lies country music,” and something like ERNEST’s “Flower Shops” for example, is that just like so many of these mainstream country songs that veer into the traditional country realm, “here lies country music” still leans on list-like lyrics and radio friendly buzzwords. We’ve seen this over and over. Music Row artists can get a lot of the sounds and sentiments right. But they just can’t kick the sauce of writing in a way to ingratiate what they’re doing to shallow listeners and radio playlists.
“Trucks ran out of red dirt roads
And beer quit getting you drunk”
Jesus, Jack Daniels, and the names of old country songs also make it into the lyrics of “here lies country music,” checking most all of the boxes of checklist country writing.
That’s not to say “here lies country music” isn’t a good song. The steel guitar and sentiment are spot-on, and the writing is smart. What a breath of fresh air it would be if you were listening to 98.1 SUCK and something like this came on. But of course, many who find appeal in a song like this wouldn’t be caught dead listening to corporate country radio in the first place, and those that tune into the Bobby Bones morning zoo will find this song more of a curiosity as opposed to a banger.
No doubt that HARDY is a clever writer. He proved that well before “here lies country music.” He’s also graced with something that most mainstream country performers and songwriters otherwise seem to be impervious to: self-awareness. This is most emblematic in the title track to his upcoming album that he released right beside “here lies country music.”
“I’m a Mockingbird
Singing songs that sound like other songs you’ve heard
Like friday nights, and headlights on some backroad red dirt
And how Mississippi’s home
I’ve always been a mockingbird
But now I’m a mockingbird with a microphone”
That is the ultimate issue with “here lies country music,” and so many of the songs from the mainstream. It’s such a copycat business, and they can’t wean themselves off the cliché’s to save their lives. That is why when listeners get a whiff of someone like Zach Bryan or Tyler Childers, it’s life-altering.
Later in the song “The Mockingbird & THE CROW,” HARDY rebels against being a copycat as the song takes a dramatic rock and roll turn. The new HARDY album is being sold as half hard rock, half country, with the title song being where the two are bisected. If this is the case, it gives country fans something to look forward to on the first half of the album, with “here lies country music” being a promising start.
But talking about being a cliché, lamenting the hypothetical death of country music, and actually doing something about it are two entirely different things. HARDY is on the right track, including his current radio single with Lainey Wilson, “Wait in the Truck.” We’ll have to see if the Mockingbird potion of his upcoming album is more of the same, or the same ol’ same ol’ of mainstream country clichés. Overall though, “here lies country music” is not a band start.