Written, produced, recorded, and released by the artist and his band, Rodney Hayden’s homespun 12 Ounce World is a truly independent project in every sense of the word. And who needs a high-powered record label or a big recording budget when you can make music like this on your own? 12 Ounce World may not be a musical revelation, but it very well may be indicative of the coming music industry revolution–it is, after all, the finest self-made country album I’ve ever heard.
A brilliantly mixed album that is underlined throughout by the standout guitar work of bandmate Matt Slusher, Hayden’s latest is one of a rare breed, so good at certain points that it’s easy to forget you’re listening to the songs of a regionally successful Texas act and not a country music legend.
On “Huntsville,” Hayden sings about guilt, death and loneliness with a booming delivery that channels Cash, and the song itself wouldn’t be at all out of place beside the genre’s finest prison songs.
Likewise, “Lonesome, Heartbroke, and Blue,” which features a mournful, howling vocal performance and a haunting steel guitar track, is an eerie dirge that would, in any other time during country music’s tumultuous history, surely be a hit. As it stands, any artist who is interested in cutting real country music should take a listen to this song. Are you paying attention Alan Jackson?
Because “Hunstville” and “Lonesome…” soar to such heights, though, the rest of 12 Ounce World pales in comparison. Those two songs prove that Hayden can be a truly great songwriter, but the remainder of the album is comprised of capable songs that seem to find him settling for less than he’s capable of. Hayden has a gritty voice cut from the cloth of Texas’ finest Honky Tonk singers, but he doesn’t have an especially nuanced voice, and so as good as much of the album is, it often finds him slipping into a laid-back groove that teeters between consistency and monotony as the record wears on.
That’s especially true since 12 Ounce World isn’t particularly successful in terms of creating definition between tracks, a shame considering the fact that there are a number of truly wonderful songs here that just get stuck in the mud. “Something Stronger Than Me” is a song that should punch but only jabs, while the Bakersfield-powered “Last Plane Out of Tulsa” should charge out of the gate, but instead only saunters.
The truth, however, is that a jabbing or sauntering Rodney Hayden song is still quite good, even if it falls short of the singer’s ultimate potential. There is a uniquely country heaviness to Hayden’s voice that is currently unmatched in the genre, and the thick drawl that wraps around songs like “Pour a Drink” and “That’s How Long My Love Will Last” is a delight to the ears of a fan of a kind country music that, unlike the genre’s contemporary mainstream, actually reflects the sounds and subjects of country living.
That is, after all, one of Hayden’s greatest strengths; when he sings, the sound that comes out of his mouth is that of Texas–big, ragged, rough around the edges, and possessing both an indelible mysteriousness and a pervading charm.