A fabulous album of toe-tapping traditional country from a wonderful new talent.
Last year, Loretta Lynn declared that “country music is dead”. With her debut album ‘Hardliner’ Hannah Juanita has put forward an extraordinarily strong case to the contrary. The mass market for traditional country music may have shrunk from its heyday; the true exponents of country music now perform on the fringes. However, for those of us that still get a tingle when they hear a honky-tonk rhythm, the unique sound of a pedal steel and a sublime country voice, Hannah Juanita is a very welcome new addition to the list of performers still flying the flag for traditional country music.
Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Juanita was living in the foothills of Mount Rainier in Washington State with her partner and friends when she made the decision to pursue a career as a country singer. “I was supposed to be living the dream, but I was miserable, lonely, and lost. So, I’d sit by the woodstove in my cabin and write country songs while it rained. I originally thought I’d try to sell my songs because I was really broke and there’s not a lot of ways to make money out in the middle of nowhere. But as time went on, I knew I had to leave my boyfriend, my land, and my whole life and go back to the south to pursue being a country singer”. Juanita arrived in Nashville in January 2019 and found work playing in the city’s iconic honky-tonks.
Whilst the album has a traditional feel to it, Juanita’s songs carry the kind of independent feminist approach of her hero Loretta Lynn and modern performers like Kacey Musgraves. The themes are familiar: love, loss and lonesomeness, “I like to write when I’m angry or sad, which works for country songs. I like to have ‘me’ nights and get stoned, drink a little wine, reminisce about my past and see what comes up emotionally, and use that for material.” The results are songs that are open, honest and occasionally hard-hitting. All of which gives it a freshness and vitality that elevates it above the level of mere retro-revivalism.
The arrangements for Juanita’s songs are simple but fabulously catchy. The time-honoured combination of guitar, bass and drums are supplemented by pedal steel (provided by American Aquarium’s Neil Jones) and fiddle. These are channelled into the classic country styles of honky-tonk and country ballads, with a dash of bluegrass, western swing and tex-mex thrown in for good measure.
‘Hardliner’ is a great country album, nothing more, nothing less. If you’re a fan of ‘real’ country music, you’ll love it – guaranteed.