Album Review

HARDY, HIXTAPE & Joe Diffie - HIXTAPE: Vol. 3: DIFFTAPE

Above all, DIFFTAPE is a glorious paean to one of country music’s most unassuming and underappreciated figures.

Album - Hixtape Vol. 3: Difftape
March 28, 2024 3:49 pm GMT

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HARDY, HIXTAPE & Joe Diffie - HIXTAPE: Vol. 3: DIFFTAPE

Label: Big Loud Records

Producer: Joey Moi

Release Date: March 29, 2024

Tracklisting:

  1. John Deere Green (Joe Diffie, Morgan Wallen & HARDY)
  2. Pickup Man (Joe Diffie, Post Malone)
  3. Ships That Don't Come In (Joe Diffie, Toby Keith & Luke Combs)
  4. Third Rock From The Sun (Joe Diffie, Blake Shelton, HARDY & Brooks & Dunn)
  5. Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox (If I Die) (Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence, Lainey Wilson & The Difftones)
  6. Bigger Than The Beatles (Joe Diffie, Jon Pardi & Old Dominion)
  7. Honky Tonk Attitude (Joe Diffie, Luke Bryan & Randy Houser)
  8. Is It Cold In Here (Joe Diffie, Reba McEntire & Jake Worthington)
  9. Texas Size Heartache (Joe Diffie, Clint Black & Larry Fleet)
  10. Home (Joe Diffie, Darius Rucker & Hailey Whitters)
  11. C-O-U-N-T-R-Y (Joe Diffie, Aaron Tippin & ERNEST)
  12. So Help Me Girl (Joe Diffie, Mark Wills & Nate Smith)
  13. New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame) (Joe Diffie, Randall King & Sammy Kershaw)
  14. If The Devil Danced In Empty Pockets (Joe Diffie, Jack Ingram & Koe Wetzel)
  15. A Night To Remember (Joe Diffie, Lauren Watkins & Kameron Marlowe)
  16. In Another World (Joe Diffie, Chris Young)
  17. Life Had Plans For Me (Joe Diffie, HARDY & Parker Diffie)

HARDY delivers the country equivalent of an All-Star Weekend on the third instalment of his beloved HIXTAPE series.

Since its first iteration in 2019, the HIXTAPE brand has carried a deep-seated reverence of the carefree twang and playful, amusing winks of ‘90s country. As a result, HARDY’s decision to make Vol. 3 a 17-song homage to the late Joe Diffie felt less like a shot from left-field, and more like a natural extension of everything HIXTAPE stands for.

With a guest list that could make any country aficionado weak at the knees – HIXTAPE is the first album to feature both Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs – the joy of the record is waiting for your favourites to emerge out of Joey Moi’s raucous, steel-drenched composition like a Music City safari.

Unsurprisingly, Diffie’s handful of No. 1s are the most eye-catching offerings, with the record suffering slightly as both the biggest songs and biggest features were released months before the rest of the album. The lead singles, ‘John Deere Green’ with HARDY and Wallen and ‘Pick-Up Man’ with Post Malone, were blockbuster hits that embodied the levity and endearing, self-effacing quality that pervaded Diffie’s discography. Posty’s debut country song was a groundbreaking moment, while HARDY and Wallen’s unparalleled chemistry lit up the small town love-story.

Nonetheless, some of the most rewarding link-ups are also the most unexpected. Lainey Wilson and Tracy Lawrence’s swaggering take on the tongue-in-cheek ‘Prop Me Up Beside The Jukebox (If I Die)’ is an undoubted highlight, while neo-traditionalist flag-bearer Jon Pardi and beachside, sun-soaked troubadours Old Dominion combine for an electrifying rendition of the alluring, rose-tinted ‘Bigger Than The Beatles’.

HIXTAPE: Vol. 3: DIFFTAPE is more enjoyable for its star-power than for the individual songs themselves, as the middle portion of the record struggles to maintain the charisma and momentum of the openers. HARDY has made it no secret that he wants HIXTAPE to become its own entity, with his involvement diminishing with each release. On DIFFTAPE, the Mississippi mastermind only appears on three tracks, and you can’t help but feel it misses his signature songwriting, which has previously been the lifeblood of HIXTAPE.

Vol. 1 and 2 were fresh, exciting twists on a golden era of country music, each song imbued with an infectious celebration of rural living, whereas Vol. 3 feels like a middle-of-the-road tribute album – and in its defence, it was never really intended to be anything more than that. HARDY achieves his mission of paying respect to Joe Diffie, and numerous stretches of the album serve as enchanting, nostalgic time capsules to the ‘90s, with the likes of ‘Honky Tonk Attitude’, ‘Is It Cold In Here’ and ‘New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)’ all propelled by stellar guest vocals.

Ultimately, DIFFTAPE would benefit from more input from its founder – but this doesn’t detract from how undeniably, unavoidably fun the record is from start to finish. Arguably, we wouldn’t even have the HIXTAPE series if it wasn’t for the blue collar toasts and light-hearted, bar-room sing-a-longs Diffie instigated through his formidable catalogue of everyman anthems.

Above all, DIFFTAPE is a glorious paean to one of country music’s most unassuming and underappreciated figures.

7.5/10

HARDY, HIXTAPE & Joe Diffie's 2024 project, HIXTAPE: Vol. 3: DIFFTAPE, is available March 29 via Big Loud Records.

For more on HIXTAPE, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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