Are you a George Jones guy in a Garth Brooks world? A Loretta Lynn gal trying to understand why people still call Shania Twain a "country" artist?

Well, then this website is for you! Here's your chance to read all about Nashville pop, from the late-'50s "Nashville Sound" and the countrypolitan scene of the '70s to today's chart-toppers and pretty-boy hat acts, seen through the lens of DJ Joe Sixpack, a hick music know-it-all with a heart of gold...

Your comments and suggestions are welcome, particularly suggestions for artists or albums I might have missed. Other types of twang are reviewed elsewhere in my Hick Music Guide.

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The Hagers "The Hagers" (Capitol, 1970) (LP)
The Hager brothers -- identical twins Jim and John -- were proteges of Buck Owens and regulars on his Hee Haw TV show. Owens found them working on the Southern California folk circuit in the late 1960s, and recruited them for the show, as well as landing them a contract with Capitol Records, where he produced their early albums; Owens' band, The Buckaroos, provided backup as well. I was never much of a fan. The Hagers always struck me as unreasonably bland and strictly from Squaresville, kind of like country clones of Pat Boone, and I never liked it when they'd appear on Hee Haw -- I was just waiting for Minnie Pearl to come back on. The Hagers had a handful of moderate hits between 1969-71, but faded from the charts after that, releasing a few non-Capitol albums over the next couple of decades. This debut album includes their biggest single, "Gotta Get To Oklahoma ('Cause California's Gettin' To Me)", a novelty number written by Rodney Lay and Buck Owens that almost cracked into the Top 40.

The Hagers "Two Hagers Are Better Than One" (Capitol, 1970) (LP)

The Hagers "Motherhood, Apple Pie And The Flag" (Capitol, 1971) (LP)

The Hagers "Music On The Country Side" (Barnaby, 1972) (LP)

The Hagers "The Hagers" (Elektra, 1974) (LP)

The Hagers "Jim And John Hager" (Book Shop, 1986)

The Hagers "Stranger In My Mirror" (Courage, 1993)

Merle Haggard - see artist discography

Noel Haggard "One Lifetime" (Atlantic, 1997)
(Produced by Barry Beckett)

Merle Haggard has several sons who have tried their hands at music; Noel Haggard was the first one to really go for a commercial career and the only one to hit the charts. Unfortunately, this album didn't do all that well -- two singles pegged out at #75, and that was pretty much that. But the good news is that this is a pretty good record -- it's glossy and formulaic (look who produced it) but given the times also relatively rootsy. Noel has a good voice and is a versatile singer... The biggest surprise is that he sounds so little like his father: he has a much lighter tone and for the most part he keeps dad's Okie drawl out of his voice. (One exception is the album's final track, "Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa," one of the album's two ill-fated singles, a song that was revived a few years later by George Strait.) He can sing both country and 'politan, and what he most shares with his dad is the ability to project feeling and emotion into the lyrics, even on slick, prefab stuff, such as the melodramatic power ballad, "I've Learned To Live." It's possible he might have done better without the Haggard name: he's a good singer and this was a strong album, but it's hard not to project certain expectations onto the guy, what with the family connection and all. There are also some aspects of this album that may have been out of line with what was happening in Nashville at the time -- not in an "outlaw" kind of way, more like a few years behind the times -- Noel was more Randy Travis than Shooter Jennings. But if you like solidly produced commercial country, this disc is certainly worth tracking down. One highlight is the '70s-ish novelty number, "Left, Leavin, Goin' Or Gone," which is something Alabama or the Oak Ridge Boys could have had a hit with, back in the day. Too bad Noel didn't get more opportunities like this one: I think he did well, but maybe the deck was just stacked against him.

Marty Haggard "Borders And Boundaries" (Critique, 1996)
Merle's oldest son followed him into the music business, first as a member of dad's band and -- starting in the late 1980s -- as a solo artist. Marty Haggard released several singles in the decade or so before this first full LP; they were all pretty strictly Back 40 material, and by the time he put out this album, Haggard had tried a career in acting, had been kicked around by life quite a bit, and had a religious conversion. His '90s albums are mostly religiously oriented, and by choice he refused to record songs about drinking or cheating, which kind of limited his mainstream appeal. No chart action here, but it still might be of interest to Haggard fans.

Marty Haggard "Ready Or Not... Here He Comes" (Mansion Entertainment)

Marty Haggard "The Bridge" (Mansion Entertainment, 2010)

Halfway To Hazard "Halfway To Hazard" (Mercury Nashville, 2007)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore & Tim McGraw)

The Kentucky-born duo of David Tolliver and Chad Warrix dig deep into Southern rock styles for the uptempo tracks on this album, but show surprising emotional heft on the slower songs. They also cuss a bit, to a surprising degree for a mainstream Nashville album, and also take aim at the Music City establishment itself, on "Welcome To Nashville," a stomper that closes out the album. But these rough edges didn't prevent them from doing well in the charts -- the single "Daisy" did okay, and they generated some buzz. Still, Nashville has a way of chewing 'em up and spitting them out, and their second album came out on an indie and never got any traction. Like many before them, they concentrated on songwriting rather than stardom, successfully pitching some songs to Tim McGraw, who co-produced this album. It's not all rockin' material, but if you're looking for some of that new Nashville-style Southern rock, this is a good album to check out.

Halfway To Hazard "Come On Time" (Picnic Hill, 2009)

Hillman Hall "One Pitcher Is Worth A Thousand Words" (Warner Brothers, 1975) (LP)
(Produced by Marijohn Wilkin)

This is the lone album by Tom T. Hall's younger brother, Hillman Hall, a modestly talented but entirely likeable country singer as well as a fairly successful songwriter, mainly known for the early '70s hit, "Pass Me By," which was a big hit for Johnny Rodriguez. This album is packed with original material, including the misery-laden title track, and novelty numbers like "Celluloid Cowboy," "You Can't Fool A Country Music Fan," "Fair To Middlin' Lower Middle Class Plain Hard Working Man" and "The Good News She Loves Me (The Bad News She's Gone)," as well as his own version of "Pass Me By." The arrangements are slick but rock-solid studio stuff, earthy though understated mid-1970s hard-country, with plenty of fiddle, dobro and pedal steel... This one's a real hidden gem from an artist who (obviously) lived in his brother's shadow, but did good -- real good -- when he got his chance.

Tom T. Hall - see artist discography

Stuart Hamblen - see artist discography

George Hamilton IV - see artist discography

Hank Flamingo "Hank Flamingo" (Warner Brothers, 1994)
(Produced by James Stroud & Byron Gallimore)

Trent Summar's old band... Hard-edged, super-twangy, slightly manic stuff with electric guitars and a slashing country fiddle prominent in the mix, and an exaggerated nasal drawl in Summar's vocals that has a strong hint of Southern Rock and bar-band roots. It's a little too forceful and rock'n'roll for me, but it's nice that the Nashville establishment put some weight behind 2W3a record as rugged as this one. (Amazing, too, that it took so many years for Summar to get his second shot...!) The one song I really liked was the mellowest one, "Promised Land," and there's also a nice cover of the old George Jones hit, "White Lightning," although despite a promising title, the novelty song "Redneck Martians Stole My Baby" was disappointing. Folks who like rowdy, guitar-heavy good ole country might wanna check this out -- and if you're a fan of Trent Summar's New Row Mob records, then definitely give this a spin.

O. J. Hanssen "What's It Gonna Take" (Row Music, 2001)
A likeable Nashville also-ran, aspiring to hit the charts with this sleekly-produced, big-sounding album. Hanssen has an unusual voice which is used to great effect on the uptempo title song, and which can sometimes make him sound adrift inside the studio, particularly on slower, sappier numbers... Still, for fans of quirky-sounding country singers (think: Don Williams, Roger Miller, Hank Locklin...) Hanssen has a nice not-perfectness to offer, an everymannish quality that doesn't seem too strained or false. This record's not great, but it's better than a lot of what Nashville had to offer at the time...

O. J. Hanssen "Blessed" (IMI, 2007)

O. J. Hanssen "Just The Thought Of You" (IMI, 2007)

Jennifer Hanson "Jennifer Hanson" (Capitol, 2003)
Densely-produced, but fairly rootsy, rock-flavored Nashville country, with more than a nod or two towards roots-rock foremothers Rosanne Cash and Sheryl Crowe. Hanson's best on the upbeat numbers -- the ballads just don't fly -- and she's got several catchy tunes here that might get her into the Top Country stratosphere. I like "Half A Heart Tattoo," myself. Her dad, by the way, played guitar in the Top Country supergroup, Alabama. Oh, and she was also voted Miss California, in 1994.... Who knew??

Jennifer Hanson "Thankful" (Universal South, 2008)

Arlene Harden "What Can I Say" (Columbia, 1968) (LP)
A solo album from Arlene Harden (who also spelled her name "Arleen"), the "girl" singer for the family band known as The Harden Trio. For more info on the band, see below...

Arlene Harden "...Sings Roy Orbison" (Columbia, 1970) (LP)

Arlene Harden "I Could Almost Say Goodbye" (Capitol, 1975) (LP)

Bobby Harden "Nashville Sensation" (Starday, 1969) (LP)
(Produced by Ralph Davis & Al Gore)

After his sisters left The Harden Trio in 1967, Bobby Harden tried replacing them with two other gals... When that fizzled out, he went solo as well, releasing this solo album which had a high proportion of cover tunes... Throughout the 'Seventies, he released a string of singles on various labels but nothing really clicked until the song, "One Step" broke into the Top 50 in 1975. Curiously, during this time Bobby Harden also recorded several rah-rah, sis-boom-bah albums for a number of college football teams, mostly with Tommy Cook but also including some albums made with his sister Arleen... I don't actually know how many of these sports records he recorded, but it's at least a half dozen. Harden's main success came as a songwriter -- in addition to his early crossover hit, Tippy Toeing," he placed songs with Top Forty stars such as Mark Chesnutt, George Jones, Kenny Rogers and Reba McEntire. Other than the football records, I think this was his only solo album... In all honesty, it's a little bland and unremarkable, but that may have been due to the style of the times as much as Harden's limitations as a singer. Hard to say... but this one didn't do much for me.

The Harden Trio "Tippy Toeing" (Columbia, 1966)
This perky family act from out Arkansas way was sort of like a modernized version of the Browns -- two sisters and a brother, but with more rockin', popped-out arrangements on a couple of tunes. The catchy title track, "Tippy Toeing," had a pop-rock kookiness to it, as did a couple of other tunes on here, though for the most part it's a softened country-folk vibe that predominates. The band put out at least one other record that I know of; sister Arlene Harden also had a fairly successful solo career, in which she pursued a more serious artistic image, albeit in a soft, weepy kinda way.

The Harden Trio "Sing Me Back Home" (Columbia, 1968)

Gus Hardin - see artist discography

Linda Hargrove - see artist discography

Keith Harling "Write It In Stone" (MCA, 1998)
Okay commercial country -- smooth, croony tunes with an undercurrent of growly hard-country vocals. Harling is a so-so singer: he sounds warm and sincere, but he doesn't seem able to bring the lyrics to an emotional crescendo, and sometimes he flubs his phrasing. The production is classic punch-in studio work -- occasionally you can even hear the edits. Overall, though, this ain't bad... He sure isn't George Jones or Randy Travis, but it's kinda nice that he wants to be. Highlight: "There Goes The Neighborhood," in which our long-married hero dreads the coming of the perfect, cutesy young couple across the street, 'cuz the attentive, ardent boyfriend makes him and his beer belly look bad by comparison. Nice cover of the old Lefty Frizzell hit, "I Never Go Around Mirrors," too. Good for him.

Keith Harling "Bring It On" (MCA, 1999)
He may have jumped the gun on the wimping-down of his true country sound... Sure, that's what all the hat-act country dudes do: hard-country debut, followed by an album packed with sappy power ballads, tinkly keyboards and insufferably formulaic, overblown, cloying lyrics. That's all very well and fine if it sells, but it helps if you've established yourself as a big star first, though: here Harling just sounds like a big old cheeseball. Bummer: his debut showed some real promise.

Joni Harms - see artist discography

Emmylou Harris - see artist discography

Freddie Hart - see artist discography

J. Michael Harter "Unexpected Change" (Broken Bow, 2003)
A pretty weak release. All the production tricks and songwriting muscle that Nashville can muster aren't enough to overcome Harter's lackluster showing as a vocalist... The father-son nostalgia tune, "Hard Call To Make," is a standout, and is enough to merit lower-rung status in the Billboard charts, but on the whole this disc strikes me as a dud.

Hunter Hayes "Hunter Hayes" (Atlantic, 2011)
(Produced by Dann Huff & Hunter Hayes)

A child star who reemerged as a teen star, Hunter Hayes offers pure boy-bandish pop with a teensy bit of twang, just enough to questionably qualify as "country" although this blaring, shimmery, generic production could just as easily fill up airspace on pop channels. Pretty insipid, really. Irritating voice, too. It might not surprise you to learn that he was also in the Emerson Drive orbit, having written one of their hits, "Play," before landing a contract with Atlantic. Apparently he wrote all the songs and played all the instruments on this album, if that's the sort of thing that impresses you -- I find that it just increases the feeling of stylistic homogeneity and amplifies his own blandness and lack of originality. But maybe that's just me?

Wade Hayes "Old Enough To Know Better" (Columbia, 1994)
Oklahoma native Wade Hayes debuts with one of the most impressive neotrad albums of the 1990s... Even the songs that sound like they're gonna suck ("Kentucky Bluebird," for example) wind up more soulful and involving that we've any right to expect. There's some prefabby production, but for the most part, producer Don Cook (known for his work with the Mavericks and Brooks & Dunn) lets Hayes carry the tunes home, crooning in a low, growl that makes me wonder what Dale Watson would sound like if Nashville opened its doors and let him in. Merle Haggard comes to mind, too, and not just in a wishful-thinking kinda way either... Some of the poppier songs are pretty bogus ("What I Meant To Say...") but Hayes certainly appears as a versatile singer with a lot of promise... Only time will tell if he'll throw it away, the same way all those Nashville cats seem to... In the meantime, this one's worth picking up...

Wade Hayes "On A Good Night" (Columbia, 1996)
Another nice one! The opening strains, with slightly too-perfect production, make it seem like this album is going to be overcommercialized and icky, but Hayes wins you over right away... Mostly it's pretty catchy, hard country stuff, tempered with just enough of the Nashville pop formula to help things go down a little easier. Love that growly voice... He's not quite Alan Jackson, but the lad comes close!

Wade Hayes "When The Wrong One Loves You Right" (Columbia, 1998)
(Produced by Don Cook & Chick Raines)

He's still a superior vocalist, but the songs are starting to strain at the edges a bit, under the weight of encroaching Nashville-isms. There are a couple of okay uptempo numbers, like "Are We Having Fun Yet?" and "Tore Up From The Floor Up" and even some fairly effective power ballad weepers, like "This Is My Heart Talking Now" (which should have been a single, but wasn't). Still, it kinda feels like Hayes was in a rut; he's a good singer, but this album never really takes off or catches fire. An okay album, not great, but also not dismal.

Wade Hayes "Highways & Heartaches" (Sony/Monument, 2000)
Hmm. Sigh, even. Ronnie Dunn and Terry McBride step in to split the knob-twiddling chores with Hayes's longtime producer Don Cook, and the results are mixed. The opening tracks are way too by-the-numbers, on "Life After Loving You," Hayes seems to be struggling to be heard over the dense pop-tinged production; it's so tightly crafted that it's kinda hard to tell it apart from a Broks & Dunn album. He takes back the album though, on a couple of more intimate numbers, Shawn Camp's "Goodbye Is The Wrong Way To Go" and a nice cover of Jim Lauderdale's "She Used To Say That To Me," and on some uptempo tunes that kinda remind me of Dwight Yoakam. Things fall apart on the glitzier pop-country numbers, but the old boy still seems to have life in him... This album tanked out on the charts, but I hope he bounces back with a good true-country album sometime soon.

Wade Hayes "Place To Turn Around" (Self-Released, 2010)

Commercial Country Albums - More Letter "H"

Hick Music Index

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