Album Review of Susan Gibson: The Hard Stuff
The Hard Stuff is a collection of familiar-sounding, easy-to-get-into, memorable songs. Not surprising, given Susan Gibson‘s songwriting pedigree. “The Hard Stuff” and “Lookin’ for a Fight,” for example, feel like songs you might hear from the (Dixie) Chicks. That what my first impression, made before reading Susan’s bio, which tells me that Susan’s song “Wide Open Spaces,” was a hit on the Chicks’ 1998 major label debut.
Released in 2019, The Hard Stuff was Susan’s first full-length album since 2011’s Tight Rope, with EP Remember Who You Are filling the void in 2016.
There are so many potential hits – or, at least, potential personal favorites – on The Hard Stuff it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll start with the first track, “Imaginary Lines,” with thoughtful verses that ebb, flow, and surge interestingly, leading to a heartfelt, memorable, catchy, emotionally energetic chorus.
Next, there’s a nice, forward-moving energy – kind of an almost Barenaked Ladies tempo – to “Antiques,” whose chorus reveals the song’s topic: “Gettin’ older ain’t for the weak. It only happens to the strongest ones. They aren’t useless, they are precious antiques. Better treat ’em like one.” As is so often the case on The Hard Stuff, the song is a lyrical goldmine atop an engaging melody that’s easy to enjoy even if you’re not paying attention to the lyrics.
“The Hard Stuff” is a rhythmic tune with attitude. As I mentioned earlier, it reminds me of a Chicks song in style, tempo, and (of course) attitude.
“Lookin’ for a Fight” has a more ominous tone and western flavor to it, sporting the singalong-able chorus: “Hey, Jack, you’ve got something to prove. You think your dirty looks will make the mountains move. ‘Out of my way!’; that’s your attitude. There you go lookin’ for a fight.”
“The Big Game” showcases a precision of vocal delivery and lyrical wordplay, and not just the obviously clever “Why ya gotta make it so hard for me to be easy?”
As I mentioned, the disc itself is full of songs that will be personal favorites, varying wildly by person, and the next two are likely to fit that description for a decent subset of of listening audiences. “Diagnostic Heart,” I know, will appeal to some with its introspective noodling. Others will be drawn to the nostalgically delivered tale of troublemaking pasts, “2 Fake IDs.”
The disc’s energetic mid-speed musical motor returns on “Hurricane,” a song that’ll have you bobbing and weaving in your seat a little while listening thanks to its engaging tempo.
“Wildflowers in the Weeds” is next; it’s yet another song I expect to be a frequent fan favorite, a pleasantly melodic tune that may particularly hit home for those who identify parts of themselves in the lyrics.
And the album concludes with “8 x 10,” a banjo and fiddle-powered, down-home reflection on home, history, and memories of loved ones no longer with us.
The entire collection, The Hard Stuff, is a truly exceptional disc, with the songwriting, the emotion, and the performance composing an enjoyable, heartfelt whole package. If any of what I’ve written appeals to your musical tastes, check this music out; you’ll be glad you’ve given Susan’s album a spin.
There are no upcoming live shows listed on the “tour” page of Susan’s website; that’ll be where you can find her gigs when there are some. You can also keep an eye on the “events” tab on Susan’s Facebook page.