A couple months back, Dead Confederate frontman T. Hardy Morris casually told Flagpole that his first solo outing was comprised of a bunch of songs he had written that simply didn’t work in the context of his primary band. But from the time Morris began playing those songs around town, many suspected Audition Tapes would be a more considered affair.
“You remind me/ That we’re not getting any younger,” Morris sings on opener “Lucky,” a tune that chronicles the alcohol-driven downfall of its protagonist. Substance abuse and redemption are recurring themes on the record; “Hardstuff” urgently addresses them both (“Leave yourself alone/ And I’ll leave well enough alone”). There’s a palpable mixture of faith and desperation throughout: the purging of darkness, the letting in of light.
Audition Tapes was recorded “onto tape and late at night,” Morris said back in May, and its tales of hope and regret are intensified by Adam Landry’s intimate, bassy production. Meanwhile, Matt Stoessel’s pedal steel is the album’s emotional core, and though her vocals are often faint, Thayer Sarrano adds a certain subtle depth. (“Beauty Rest” is Sarrano’s shining moment—her spectral singing enlightens the otherwise reticent tune.)
There are rare missteps. “Share the Needle” is more rocking than the rest of the album (only here does Stoessel’s steel feel incongruous); it might have worked better backed by Dead Confederate’s trademark nu-grunge roar. Overall, though, Audition Tapes is a gem. Confronting demons, in life or on record, is a messy thing. That Morris handles it with such creative composure is nothing short of remarkable. 4 out of 5.
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