Musically speaking, authenticity should sound easy but is never as easy as it sounds. It is, in fact, something of a quest, a long road developing a truthful voice as both a writer and performer.
It’s a road the Evans-bred and Athens-based musician T. Hardy Morris has been traveling for some time. It also appears he has, after a variety of musical incarnations, arrived.
Morris began his musical career with the decidedly jammy Redbelly before it segued into the psychedelic sludge of Dead Confederate – a band he has also fronted. He’s also a member of the all-star act Diamond Rugs and released the largely acoustic Audition Tapes as a solo artist.
Now he has returned with a new album under the moniker T. Hardy and the Hardknocks.
The collection, titled Drownin on a Mountaintop, might mark the first time Morris doesn’t feel like a stylistic explorer. That’s not to say the songs, which combine propulsive rock with classic country, don’t have a real sense of focus.
What’s different is while Morris has often seemed able to comfortably navigate the tones and textures of multiple musical forms, this feels like the first time we are hearing the true artist and an accurate representation of the music he naturally hears in his head.
What’s interesting about this phenomenon is that while Morris himself has settled into a certain state of contentment with a wife and new baby, the songs play as cathartic release for a series of characters – perhaps pure fiction, perhaps based on past or present versions of people he has known, perhaps based on Morris himself – who struggle against their own imperfect nature. It’s a series of hard luck and hard living stories for which Morris’s outlaw music provides perfect accompaniment.
Whether it’s the easy Stones-style riffs of the loping rocker Starting Gun or the high-lonesome cry of the steel guitar pushed forward for the plaintively reflective Just Like the Movies, there’s a real instinctual understanding of how music and words need to work together.
The results are impressive. It’s a record that not only functions as a series of songs but also a collective whole. It fairly gallops along, transitioning easily from one tune to the next, exploring the nuances of a variety of stylistic devices without ever feeling disjointed or jarring. What it feels like is a pedal-down blast through a dark summer night with only the roar of the wind and the history of classic American music for company.
Morris is an artist that has always seemed to carry important lessons forward from each of his incarnations. Redbelly gave him confidence. Dead Confederate unleashed the ready rocker. The Audition Tapes experience strengthened him as a dynamic singer and Diamond Rugs has exposed him to a variety of approaches to songwriting.
Somewhere along the way he also learned the importance of being himself.
I, for one, feel newly invested in him as an artist and intensely interested in what comes next. Until then, I’m content to sit on the Mountaintop.