“I’d have rock bands and they’d be like, ‘Dude, can you sing less country?’” CJ Solar shared with us in an interview earlier this spring. With the release of his debut EP, Hard One To Turn Down, we’re thanking the powers that be that he was unable to. The EP, a five-track offering of rock atmosphere and southern grounding, is planted firmly in Solar’s vocal, one that is decidedly country. Despite a bit of side-eye from his younger, rock-aspiring self, Solar’s country leaning is a great thing: Hard One To Turn Down is the perfect pairing of country storytelling and rocking rhythms, married by his dynamic vocal.
Not that rock has left the room. “Tall Boy” enters with a Foo-Fighters-like palate, with heavy electrics and dynamic percussion. Even “A Little More Time,” the most mellow of the five boasting Zac-Brown-meets-Chris-Cornell sensibilities, features snarly electrics and bold drums. “New Radio,” the punchiest of the songs, is highly dynamic as well. The entirety of the project, co-written and co-produced by Solar, marries the sounds well; strong percussion and a harmonica solo find harmony in “Just Another Day In The Country,” which features Jerrod Niemann. It’s cohesive and feels good – highly jammable on a surface level and connective as you dig deeper.
Though titles like “Tall Boy” may lull you into a false sense of lyrical banality, don’t be fooled: Solar’s EP features smart writing, that, while not necessarily tackling the most novel of topics (namely, heartbreak and country living), finds a novel way to talk about it. “I’ll settle for a new radio / playing nothing but songs I ain’t heard before / to help me get my moving on on /since you’re long gone / this song’s gotta go / I ain’t got the money now / the game or the know-how / so I’m thinking a truck you ain’t been in, a new girlfriend, is too far down the road / I’ll settle for a new radio,” Solar sings on the lead track. Yes, it’s heartbreak re-remembered through once-shared memories, but it’s the realistic version, in which you can’t just drive your truck into the lake and hit the highway in a Camaro for emotional paradise city. “Hard One To Turn Down” is similarly tightly written – it doesn’t beat you over the head with the clever reuse of the hook in new ways, but it has motion, developing as the story does. Single “Tall Boy” isn’t just about getting drunk, it’s about rediscovering your strength: “an empty heart needs a cold can / so order up a tallboy / cause it makes you feel tall, boy.”
“I can be a diamond, just need a little shine,” Solar sings on the closer, “A Little More Time.” At the risk of being contrarian, he’s wrong: Hard One To Turn Down is already a gem, and shines on first and repeated listens.
Grab the EP on iTunes or listen below: