Album Review – Hannah Juanita’s “Hardliner”

photo: Amy Thorne

When a press release arrived at Saving Country Music headquarters presenting the new album Hardliner from the Chattanooga-born and Nashville-based artist Hannah Juanita as her effort to “save country music,” it certainly piqued the interest. But of course, anyone can say what they want in a press release, and those happen to be some pretty lofty expectations to present your music in, especially around these parts. Lucky for Hannah Juanita and the rest of us though, this Tennessee songbird delivers.

Throwing it all the way back to the era when you had no choice but to be good if you wanted to make country music, Hannah Juanita turns in this classic country record of eleven original songs backed by some superior musicianship that works like manna for those old souls out there.

A wandering heart who kicked around in various ports of call for the better part of a decade, Hannah Juanita thought all her dreams had come true when she purchased 22 acres in Washington State and settled on it with her boyfriend. But the dream ended up being a nightmare as feelings of isolation and a bad relationship set it. To keep her sanity, she penned the songs of Hardliner by the light of a wood stove, plotting her escape.

When she finally left a couple of years later, she eventually ended up in Nashville, and fell into the crowd of the now infamous American Legion Post 82. This is where she found her home and calling in old school country music, and began making connections and plotting her course ahead with her sad and lonely country songs penned during her time in the Cascades. Soon, Hardliner was born.

Utilizing her Post 82 connections like a wellspring of talent, Hardliner comes alive in classic country goodness. It’s not just the style and playing on many of the songs that make them stand out, it’s the interplay between the respective players that gets lost in so much modern country music making, even in works with classic leanings. Those little calls and answers between the lead and steel guitar that the old greats did when they all recorded in the same room huddled around a single microphone help imbue Hardliner with that truly vintage sound and vitality.

And I hope you like your country music sad, because that’s what Hannah Juanita is dishing up here. Feelings of hopelessness, of being tied down, and wanting to escape and feel freedom once again, these are what fill the passages of the songs of this self-diagnosed hard-hearted ramblin’ gal who likes to call her own shots.

Though much of what you get here is Webb Pearce-era country, Hannah and the Hardliners catch you off guard a couple of times, like with the Español flavors of “Love Like Yours,” and the Outlaw era of “Call Yourself My Man” and “Grudge to My Grave.” But if we’re being fair, by the end the album does begin to get a little “one-note” feeling from the themes and even some of the musical approach. Even when a torrid same-sex love affair is revealed in “Green Eyes,” in 2021 these songs just aren’t as racy or uncommon as they once were.

What Hannah Juanita has done here is set a really solid foundation for herself in classic country, brings her songs from a lonesome period to life, and hopefully helps to save country music by finding appeal in folks from the American Legion scene in Nashville, to Ameripolitan fans who look to the sounds of country music’s past to help save it in the present and the future.

1 1/2 Guns Up

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