Audie Blaylock & Redline,
Hard Country
(Rural Rhythm, 2012)

Except for the consideration that CDs, like books, need titles, it isn't clear why Audie Blaylock & Redline (or whoever) decided to call this one Hard Country. The phrase "hard country" is ordinarily applied to blue-collar songs of alcoholism, adultery and heartbreak. Nothing here, however, takes the listener anywhere near a honkytonk, and the songs are more likely to celebrate true love than to lament its loss. Nobody's heart (or other body part) is cheatin', either.

Two successive cuts, "Home is Where the Heart Is" and "A Natural Thing," by the late Nashville songwriter Harley Allen, express the sorts of cotton-candy sentiments favored by modern Southern-pop radio, not by the hard-country crowd. Neither song manages to rise above the irritating cliche that inspired it. Because Blaylock is numbered among the justly respected trad-bluegrass vocalists on the current scene, he sings both with more conviction than they deserve. One can only lament, even so, that he didn't opt for stronger material, a problem when the disc has only 10 cuts and weighs in at barely more than 32 minutes.

Blaylock's version of "Philadelphia Lawyer" -- also covered on Larry Stephenson's recent Compass CD What Really Matters -- is a splendid one in the modified Monroe style Blaylock and his band have mastered. But it is credited, oddly and wrongly, to "traditional," which it is only in the sense that Woody Guthrie, like any good folk singer, used the template of an older ballad for some of the melody and lyrics. Still, this is very much Woody's song, written in 1937 when he was a hillbilly performer on a California radio show. It relates (if with tongue in cheek) an actual recent event.

Hard Country showcases Blaylock's strengths in cuts like the original "A Grandmother's Love," the Shilling/Weisberger "A Real Good Way to Lose," and a tuneful closing instrumental, Richard Underwood's "Newton's Grove." There's nothing wrong with this album that a couple of additional cuts and a more consistently robust songlist couldn't have fixed.

music review by
Jerome Clark

28 July 2012

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