This 2015 release from Ken Hardley features many of the qualities that he has displayed onstage in a long career of bringing music to the people. The distinctive and deceptively versatile voice, expressive instrumental work, imaginative arrangements, collaborations with outstanding musicians, as well as other familiar Hardley-ish characteristics and activities pervade this recording.
The album features nine songs penned by Hardley himself, one with help from his friend, Steve Piper and another with Granddaughter Madison. These songs explore relationships – from anticipation, to hope, to bargaining and reluctant resignation, to finality, and to fond remembrance. Almost any way that a relationship can make you suffer, it’s probably here somewhere. But usually that suffering is presented through the bemusing and less-than-fully-serious lens through which Hardley habitually views the world.
As always, Hardley surrounds himself with first-rate musicians. John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Mary Ramsey and Jeff Erickson (10,000 Maniacs), Joe Dady (The Dady Brothers), Steve Piper, and many more, make appearances. Some of their contributions are solos that demand repeated listenings. Hear McEuen and Dady exchange solos on “Possum Trot” or Mary Ramsey’s viola on “Edna and Julia”. Some are more artful ambience-creating offerings, such as Erickson’s work on “Probably Just Fine.”
Interpreting the work of others has always been one of Hardley’s great pleasures and, along with his own songs, Hardley pays homage to three musicians who have affected his personal musical development, David Bromberg, Steve Piper, and Rickie Lee Jones.
Produced by Armand Petri (Goo Goo Dolls, Sixpence None the Richer, 10,000 Maniacs, Flaming Lips), this album takes what is basically bluegrass/folk instrumentation and steers it into many different musical territories. Give it a listen. It’s music that might stretch your sensibilities. If you like that sort of thing.