Hardin’s songs are stories about questions and questions about stories. He sings about women and what he stole from them, be it their money or hearts (either will do, though one tends to follow from the other), or he asks questions to the ones who haven’t left him yet. Do you love me? Would you if I had nothing? Would you please leave? And so they do. Characters weave in and out of his life, assumed, but never taken for granted; I think every song on 2
is as precious as the last, each lover tantamount to Hardin’s misery, but she only exists for a minute.
The endings always lie heavy on Hardin’s mind, and 2
certainly lingers. “Lady Came from Baltimore,” my favourite Hardin song ever, presents him not as the folk renegade that might exist when we read his tragic stories, but as some languishing, self-defeating fool. “I was there to steal her money, take her rings and run,” he explains, adding to his plans like this badass scheming is unremarkable, before dropping the kicker: “then I fell in love with the lady/ got away with none.”
I adore that lyric, tacked on like it is, and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s something Hardin can just about admit in the heat of the song, even if he’s not ready to understand it. Hardin’s death left him obscured and punished to the memory of one song, the beautiful, quietly shattering “If I Were a Carpenter,” but all of these songs speak for Hardin in the same uncertain tones, as if he’s finally growing away from indifference. 2
is a startlingly arranged record, strings attached to its sides and rumbling drums giving it the blues-y cool guy feel Hardin adored, but it’s incredibly raw. He just doesn’t know it.
Really what Hardin knows is that this is his record. These are his problems and his remnants. I came to Hardin through Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy
, an album which mutated from one of his loneliest songs. On “Black Sheep Boy,” a weary imprint of Hardin exists, too tired to recognise himself and happy to be a no-name loner. He literally begs to be left alone, like if fame ever got to him it would’ve wrestled him to the ground. Listening to 2
is like any record you have an assumed nostalgia with – you might find it pretty, beautiful even, but deep down it harbours dark, despairing territory. In these songs Hardin reminds us that well dressed folk music can be the deadliest, and not to reminisce over things that seemed a whole lot better as they unfolded. 2
is uneasy like that. It’s not able to conform. I’ve always felt that creeping into Hardin’s music; on these early records he was never able to sit and just play the guitar, and seemed incapable of understanding what would best express him. “Why can’t you see,” he would ask, on a piano ballad that eliminated all of his easy-breezy blues rock, “you’ve got to change to love me?” The pains of 1
exist as fresh wounds, and that’s heart-breaking. Hardin used music as the first take to a fallout.
I prefer 2
maybe only because I’d rather hear Hardin softly intone what he fails to recognise. 1
documents a Hardin still enamoured with blues and smart guitar playing, and while it prides itself in the slick smugglin’ man, 2
is where Hardin really begins to check his losses. It’s hard to listen to him make his mistakes and then work his shi
t out from scratch, but it’s beautiful too. Sometimes we forget how hard folk rock can hit, and on what contradictions it can exist. 2
is pretty, but I bet Hardin didn’t think so.