Alan Jackson – “Hard Hat and a Hammer”
Songwriters: Alan Jackson
By definition, pandering caters to the lowest common denominator of a particular group’s interests and tastes, in the hopes of gaining favor, swaying opinions and, in music’s case, driving sales. A slew of recent country radio offerings have been charged with this form of musical prostitution, including Rodney Atkins’ “It’s America,” Bomshel’s “Fight Like a Girl” and Lee Ann Womack’s “There Is a God.”
Each of these tunes addresses a geographical, sexual or religious subset, attempts to speak to the (oxymoronic) distinctive generalities they share and have weathered an inevitable backlash for appearing gratuitous and unoriginal.
On the other side of this coin is Alan Jackson, who toes the line between panderer and, in his own words, purveyor of simple truths. If the failures of pander are a direct result of an artist’s inauthenticity, Jackson routinely succeeds with spot-on renderings of those aforementioned demographics without succumbing to simply sucking up.
“Hard Hat and a Hammer,” a straightforward declaration of appreciation for the working class that boasts the catchiest hook off his latest album Freight Train, doesn’t reach to glamorize or idolize the construction workers, janitors or garbage men (or women, as Jackson points out in the closing line) of the world.
Instead, the artist’s reputation as a quiet, modest man with a small-town point of view allows him to personally embody songs such as “Meat and Potato Man,” “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and his latest single by connecting with audiences in a real way, despite sometimes less-than-stellar lyrics and predictable stylings.
Sonically, “Hard Hat and a Hammer” is a pleasure to listen to from the very first fiddle riff. Aspiring percussionists who find drums a bit too physically demanding and the triangle a bit too wimpy, take heart: Once Jackson permanently adds this to his concert set list, he’ll need a full-time hammer-ist. Steady construction site clinks pull triple duty by keeping time, adding auditory interest and driving home the mundane monotony organic to the jobs Jackson lauds.
Despite these successes, it’s easy to lose “Hard Hat and a Hammer” in Jackson’s string of similarly minded themes. At its most forgettable, it comes off as a post-Industrial Revolution version of “Small Town Southern Man,” minus any feel-good, semi-autobiographical back-story to carry its dead weight.
Like art, beauty and the opinions found in this review, pander is purely subjective. What is objective, however, is the long-term legendary status Jackson will hold in the country music history books for material just like “Hard Hat and a Hammer.”
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