One reviewer noted of Audie Blaylock that he “puts music before image.” If you’ve seen the cover of his latest album, Hard Country, you’ll see some of the truth of that statement: this is one of the best albums of 2012, and it has one of the worst album covers.
If you didn’t know anything about Blaylock, you’d look at this one and think that it’s one of those compilation CDs that they sell at truck stop check outs. The title doesn’t help.
Despite the image that the flaming guitar, the flaming microphone, and the title create, this album is actually a thoughtful, beautifully produced (thanks to Scott Vestal) collection from one of the best bands out there today. Blaylock has built a name for himself over time which was furthered by his collaboration with Michael Cleveland. Blaylock records with his touring band, which I like, though I’m not sure why. For some reason, it just seems the right thing to do. While it might be difficult to support with evidence, I think that it also lends a comfort to the material, in part because they have spent time with it on the road and working up the arrangements long before they enter a studio.
The result is an album so calm and confident, and just so wonderfully solid, that it ranks with recent releases from bands like Blue Highway and the Boxcars. The material is chosen, it would seem, because of the stories that the songs tell, though there’s also such an obvious depth of knowledge and appreciation for the traditions within the music. Recent songs are set beside some very time-worn material, such as “ Philadelphia Lawyer,” Harley Allen’s “Home is Where the Heart Is” and the Louvin’s “Stormy Horizons” (which you may know better from Jim and Jesse), and the album is the richer for it. Here too are nods to so many of the cornerstones of bluegrass music: brother duets, close harmony, and songs of home and family. “A Grandmother’s Love” is a new song from Blaylock, as is “The Chair,” both of which sit so beautifully next to the older material here.
In all, Blaylock is interested in presenting a well chosen, well produced collection that really engages with the core of bluegrass music. But, more importantly, he’s created an album that tells some stories, and one which succeeds on that level more than any other. Now, if only we could do something about the cover.