CD Review of Halfway to Hazard by Halfway to Hazard

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Halfway to Hazard
starstarstarstarno star Label: Style Sonic/Mercury Records
Released: 2007
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The life of a country music singer in 2007 is more often about who you know than what you’re singing about. These days if you can get Big Kenny or John Rich to pen you a song, or Toby Keith to take you on tour with him, chances are you’ll at least be a nominee for New Artist of the Year at the next awards show. Two working-class stiffs from coal-country Kentucky, known collectively as Halfway to Hazard, have the superior fortune to be both touring with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s mega “Soul2Soul Tour 2007” and releasing their self-titled debut with McGraw and Byron Gallimore producing. So failure is not an option for Chad Warrix and David Tolliver, grade school friends who call Hazard, KY their band base (a Podunk blue-collar town known as Queen City of the Mountains, which is halfway between their respective hometowns). But somewhere between attending Hazard Community College for a year, working part time at Max & Erma’s and attending University of Kentucky basketball games, Warrix and Tolliver managed to write some damn good songs about the ins and outs of life, love, small towns and big dreams.

Their dueling guitar, singer/songwriter, two-part harmony approach recalls little-known Billy Pilgrim (Sugarland member Kristian Bush’s first band) and super-known Big & Rich, yet Halfway to Hazard employs a hard rock element that reeks more of Aerosmith than anything out of Nashville. The album’s opener, a black-and-blue rock effort called “Countrified,” features a wailing, Bret Michaels-like vocal and a heavy metal mantra: “A fool’s gold watch and a lung full of black smoke is all I get now for all I gave / My only reward for this broken down body was diggin’ my way to an early grave.” The seamlessness of their vocal collaboration continues on the hopeless but catchy “Taking Me On,” sporting a shared songwriting credit from Bobby Pinson. They’ve even got the authentic, tear-in-my-beer ballad down pat, as “Cold” chronicles a wrecked love at the hands of a cheap hotel room and a bottle of black label Jack. “There ain’t nothin’ like whiskey when a woman turns cold,” Warrix belts out in true, Bic-lighter arena rock fashion.

The superstar potential of this debut record lies with its first single, “Daisy,” which is garnering major attention on country radio and CMT. It’s a near-perfect single, with glorious harmony vocals, massive hooks, and a gut-wrenching story about momma Daisy trading her life for baby Daisy. Now that’s country music! “Devil and the Cross” is also gaining momentum as the follow-up single on an album that could sprout legs and run for a couple years birthing numerous radio hits, a la Little Big Town’s debut. Halfway has it all – pretty-boy looks, soaring voices, Tim and Faith’s marketing, and the ultimate “cool” factor. Book ‘em as a safe bet for next year’s New Artist of the Year, and a dark horse to give titans Brooks & Dunn or Big & Rich a legitimate run for Duo of the Year.

~Red Rocker