The concept of the Mixtape isn’t a new one in most music genres but in the country music world, save for Sam Hunt and Walker Hayes, it hasn’t been used to great effect and certainly there hasn’t been a country mixtape (or album) to feature as many guests — 17 — as Hardy’s Hixtape, Vol. 1 does. And with a title adding “Vol. 1” to it, there’s definitely going to be more where these come from as HARDY represents a new kind of country music artist. In addition to writing massive hits for others (Blake Shelton’s “God’s Country,” for example), HARDY has his own record deal and the bespectacled singer also isn’t like any other country artist out there. Blending clever wordplay that’s as classic as any Lefty Frizzell honky tonk number, HARDY’s melodies mix country, pop, hiphop and rock sounds into a blender and it comes out distinctively unique and I’d call it “post-bro” as he leans into influences on this record including “Redneck Tendencies,” a song which could’ve been a hit for a number of artists yet here, where it features Trace Adkins and Joe Diffie, it’s uniquely a modern 90s country throwback.
The ten tracks which make up Hixtape, Vol 1 showcase a man getting into a groove that is also a new way for country music to market itself. “My Kind Of Livin’” blends steel guitars with programmed beats and it talks about wanting to live the rural life and features strong featured collaborators in Hunter Phelps and Jamison Rodgers who give the song an overall feel of something that blends 90s country harmonies of Diamond Rio and even a little bit of Shenandoah (something which is even more pronounced on “Nothin’ Out Here” with Thomas Rhett). “He Went To Jared” is clever in telling a story of a man who loses the love of his life to a man who has more of everything. Education, money and white collar while HARDY (and Morgan Wallen)’s narrator is a blue collar, down home type and realizes that he never would’ve done or had enough for her. It’s definitely a cousin to the iconic “Friends In Low Places.”
Melodies are overflowing on this 10 track collection and perhaps the biggest star feature is Keith Urban on “No Place Like Hometown,” a lyrical cousin to “My Kind of Livin’” but something that is different to hear Keith Urban on. It’s the kind of creative collaboration that Keith Urban loves and this Mixtape Idea is definitely something I could see Urban trying out down the line. The opening guitar tones of “Turn You Down” showcase one new guest for a country artist as rock star Zakk Wylde’s iconic guitar skills are heavily featured, along with a return of Morgan Wallen. The overall vibe of HARDY’s first HIXTAPE volume is of fun collaborations and that’s what ultimately makes HIXTAPE a real winning release. It may never have a radio hit but there is quality here and a lot of talented folks having a damn good time which is what music should be about (if it’s not about life and other human emotions) and that makes this a winning project for the rising star and superstar songwriter.