Tyler Morgenstern, Staff Writer
[Ed. – “Green Eyes,” the leadoff single from Hardliner, is available exclusively on Country Queer. Track at bottom.]
On her aptly titled debut solo record, Hardliner, singer-songwriter Hannah Juanita suffers no fools and pulls no punches. Blending the acidic lyricism of Loretta Lynn with instrumental arrangements and vocal performances that channel Patsy Cline’s greatest kiss-offs, Hardliner is a love letter to leaving, a spirited tribute to the life of a “Ramblin Gal”.
From album-openers “Call Yourself My Man” and “I’m Gonna Leave You”, to the stripped-back “Hard Hearted Woman”, Juanita—who after an extended stay in the Pacific Northwest now lives, writes, and performs in Nashville—tells a story of life on the run. Simpering men left in the dust. Burnt bridges and whirlwind queer romances that go down in flames.
Brimming with confidence and never short on bravado, Hardliner is the work of an artist who, despite only recently stepping into the role of full-time recording artist, seems to know precisely who she is. An artist who follows her heart and gut wherever they might point.
Being a hardliner Juanita tells me, is about drawing firm thresholds and refusing to cross them. About setting “strong boundaries” and “not taking shit you shouldn’t take”. It’s “the opposite of being a doormat.”
This unapologetic spirit courses through many of the album’s eleven tracks, occasionally flagging, as on “Grudge to the Grave” and the plaintive “Big Secret” but always returning with a vengeance. Though it leans traditional in matters of production, Hardliner siphons a country-rock sensibility quietly indebted to Midwest Farmer’s Daughter-era Margo Price, with whom Juanita shares a flare for the caustic barb.
It’s a combination that works especially well on “Green Eyes”, telling the story of one especially intoxicating, ultimately disastrous relationship. The track opens with a woozy overture that captures the dizzy euphoria of infatuation. “Like a wildfire in the summer” Juanita sings over a punch-drunk pedal steel, “I could barely take her heat. And her smoke was all that I could breathe”.
Soon, though, things take a turn: with the introduction of a stiffly picked electric guitar and a bouncing bass line, the romance begins to speed toward a fiery conclusion—the early blush of infatuation decaying into smoldering resentment and a yearning for the sort of freedom that Juanita, only a few lines prior, renounces quite decisively.
Like much of the rest of Hardliner, the track is vibrant, funny, and uncompromising, yet at the same time possessed of a certain sober wisdom. It evinces a keen understanding of the risks, rewards, and liabilities that attend the all-in/all-out life of a “Ramblin Gal,” and confronts with unsparing honesty the scrapes and bruises one inevitably earns along the way. As Juanita sings on “Hard Hearted Woman,” “Sometimes to the truth is hard to hear,/There’s no doubt what you’re hearing is a shape/ But as much as I do it for me/ I do it for you just the same.”
Hardliner will be out JUNE 11th. You can preorder HERE.