Alan Jackson – “Hard Hat and a Hammer”

Karlie Justus Marlowe | April 28th, 2010

Alan Jackson - Hard Hat and a HammerSongwriters: 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.”

Thumbs Up

  1. Adam
    April 28, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Pretenious and predictable review from a long-winded reviewer. Basically said the song is average, but it gets a thumbs up because it’s an Alan Jackson song. Waste of time.

  2. WAYNOE
    April 28, 2010 at 10:11 am

    If this song would have “pandered” to the God-fearing crowd, it would have received a thumbs down. One can see that many times one’s own prejudices effects their critique.

    Little do the musically illiterate understand that music always addresses and is sang to certain subsets. That is the genesis behind why there are different genres of music. Good grief! This is very basic.

  3. Noeller
    April 28, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I roll my eyes at some people. Here are some random thoughts about this song and the comments that followed, so far:

    -One of Alabama’s Greatest Hits is “40 Hour Week”, which is one of the Top Country songs of all time. This is a relatively similar theme, but done very much in a style which could only be Alan Jackson. Sonically, it’s an absolute pleasure (a common theme lately, as with Dierks’ latest effort) with the hammer-on-anvil back-beat and the strong fiddle drive. Lyrically, it’s not necessarily a new topic, but it’s SO sincere and completely UN-pretentious that you can’t help but grab your own hard hat and hammer and get out to the job site.

    As for the comments. To say that AJ gets a free pass because he’s AJ is ignorant, at best. If there’s one thing this site loves to do (and I say this with great admiration!) it’s bring a superstar down off their pedastal – really knock ‘em down a few pegs when they try to get away with a lazy effort. I dare say, if someone like AJ, King George, or any other “superstar”, put forth a truly lackluster effort, they’d be called on it.

    Waynoe – if this song had pandered to the “Fundie” Christians than it might’ve been panned, and rightly so, IMO. The bible thumpin’ fundies are a MUCH smaller subset than the average blue-collar worker subset, but it’s difficult to see that from inside the bubble.

    Bottom line: This is another very solid effort from Alan Jackson, who’s taken to doing things the Strait Way – you’re not going to hear anything ground breaking, but you generally get what you want out of him, and it’s always done really well. It’s honest and sincere, and for my money, I couldn’t ask for a whole lot more.

  4. Rick
    April 28, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Some might think the clink of a hammer in a mainstream country music songs started with Merle Haggard in “Working Man Blues”, but it goes back earlier to Wynn Stewart’s “Another Day Another Dollar” (and probably long before that).

    This song is another decent quality song nicely performed in the well worn Alan Jackson modus operandi rut. Although not very special compared to Alan’s better songs, its better than most of what fills the Top 40 AirHead Country airwaves, for whatever that is worth.

    I won a copy of “Freight Train” here at The 9513 and I must say I was surprised at the poor production and sound quality of this album. It sounds thin througout the entire album, like a low budget effort recorded in a home studio with less than stellar digital recording equipment and mics. Listen to a track (any track) off this album back to back with “Where I Come From” and the difference is astounding! It seems like Alan is kinda losing interest in making new music and is flying on autopilot.

    In its debut week this album sold only 89,000 units while Lady Antebellum’s album (that had already been on sale for a few weeks) sold well over 100,000 units. Alan is on his way out at Top 40 country radio as the Lady Antebellum’s, Taylor Swift’s, and Carrie Underwood’s of the world take over the mainstream country realm with pop-rockin music. Dang…

  5. sam (sam)
    April 28, 2010 at 11:34 am

    I cant say I’m too disappointed if Alan Jackson is on his way out at country radio and new acts are coming in. I enjoy Jackson’s music and I’ve even been to two of his concerts, but I’ve been hearing it now for about 20 years. I would welcome new artists on country radio to take the place of Strait, Brooks & Dunn, Jackson, Martina McBride and the others who have been around since before 1995.

  6. Razor X
    April 28, 2010 at 11:59 am

    “If this song would have “pandered” to the God-fearing crowd, it would have received a thumbs down.”

    If this song had gotten a thumbs down, many of the same people who are complaining now would be telling us that not every song has to be deep and ground-breaking.

    “I won a copy of “Freight Train” here at The 9513 and I must say I was surprised at the poor production and sound quality of this album. It sounds thin througout the entire album, like a low budget effort recorded in a home studio with less than stellar digital recording equipment and mics.

    It sounded just fine to me. I’d advise you to give it another listen, but you’ve probably already sold your copy and gotten something else.

  7. Rick
    April 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Razor X said: “It sounded just fine to me. I’d advise you to give it another listen, but you’ve probably already sold your copy and gotten something else.”

    That was my game plan but I gave it to my Mom who “was” a big Alan Jackson fan for at least the first 15 years or so. She hasn’t cared much for his newer music ever since the pathetic “Drive” album came out.

    As for the sound quality, it is just a bit thin and cheesy sounding compared to Alan’s best produced efforts like “When Somebody Loves You”. “Freight Train” doesn’t sound bad, it just doesn’t sound near as good as it should even by Alan’s previous standards. Now folks listening to iPods with the earbuds that came with them (or to most “computer speakers”) are not likely to discern the sonic deficiencies, but on a high quality stereo system its blatantly obvious.

  8. Steve Harvey
    April 28, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    This is middling AJ. He can do much better.

  9. Ben Foster
    April 28, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I love “Hard Hat and a Hammer,” and I especially love the fiddle kickoff. This review did make some good points, but it was a little clogged up with big words. I have a good vocabulary, but I was tripping up over a few of those sentences.

  10. Razor X
    April 28, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    “That was my game plan but I gave it to my Mom who “was” a big Alan Jackson fan for at least the first 15 years or so. She hasn’t cared much for his newer music ever since the pathetic “Drive” album came out.”

    So you gave your Mom a CD that you fully expected that she’d dislike?

  11. Steve Harvey
    April 28, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    it was a little clogged up with big words. I have a good vocabulary, but I was tripping up over a few of those sentences.
    Seriously? I just finished high school and I don’t think this review had anything approaching a challenging vocabulary.

  12. Steve Harvey
    April 28, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    So you gave your Mom a CD that you fully expected that she’d dislike?
    Rick’s just that way.

  13. Jules C H
    April 29, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    I am really loving AJ’s latest record but this is the track that I skip – I just cannot manage to enjoy it. For some reason there is just a major disconnect for me.

  14. JeffT
    May 21, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Maybe because it’s the same E-A-D chord progression that’s been done to death. This sounds like many other AJ songs.

  15. Melvin
    June 25, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Just another bland Alan Jackson song. He’s done much, much better than this.

  16. VoiceOfReason
    November 13, 2010 at 5:50 am

    First of all Alan hasnt changed his sound and will never change his sound like I said with Reba new song and album. Man! it’s Alan friggin Jackson his sound and songs has gotten his far very far with a mega fan base if it aint broke dont fix it. After all this time if the man is still hitting the charts and making the money and his fans are still on that bandwagon then ole well it’s Alan friggin Jackson and it works for him and his fans.

  17. Matt
    May 23, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Alan Jackson has so much money and was never a construction worker (at least not to my knowledge) and the fact he sings like he’s the “workin’ man” is offensive to those of us who actually do have to work for a living.

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