It’s been a little while since Sam Hunt dropped a certifiable banger. The country-pop innovator, loved and hated in equal measure, has largely stuck with the moody introspection of “Downtown’s Dead” and “Sinning With You” since dominating American radio with 2017’s “Body Like a Back Road.” But he’s made it worth the wait: His latest release, “Hard to Forget” (from the upcoming album Southside), is an undeniably great party jam featuring one of the most straightforwardly country vocals he’s ever laid down.
It revolves around a sample of honky-tonk singer Webb Pierce’s 1953 Number One hit “There Stands the Glass,” a classic of the drinking-away-the-pain variety that hasn’t been widely heard on radio in ages — unless, say, you’re regularly tuned into a satellite radio channel that goes a level deeper than Hank Williams and Ray Price. This isn’t “I Walk the Line” or “He Stopped Loving Her Today”; Hunt had to do a little homework to find and appreciate “There Stands the Glass.” The short snippet of Pierce’s trebly tenor is doused in eerie reverb, then chopped up and pitched slightly higher to fit around Hunt’s booming beat and syncopated guitar parts.
Eschewing his Drake-ian preference for brooding sing-talk (see his “Take Your Time” for an example), Hunt actually slides into a slow-rolling melody from some lost Nineties country hit and makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world. In a tight series of hooks, he addresses someone who’s walked out but can’t seem to stop leaving reminders everywhere he goes: work, church, the mall, even in the clouds. “You’ve got a cold heart and the cold hard truth/I’ve got a bottle of whiskey but I got no proof/That you showed up tonight in that dress just to mess with my head,” he sings in the chorus, unable to fully hit the reset button and move on because he thinks his ex is “playin’ hard to forget.”
It’s breezy and brokenhearted, old-school and futuristic all at once. “Hard to Forget” makes a fine showcase for Hunt as a soulful country stylist, for one, but it also allows him to reclaim country tradition for risk-takers and rule-breakers like himself.
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