I enjoyed Chris Chitsey’s “Life Is Hard, Whiskey Is Easy” on my first pass and further plays only strengthened my esteem for the Texas singer’s new single. Chitsey has released an unadulterated modern country classic free from many of the trappings marring the bulk of today’s offerings from Nashville. There is a smattering of honkytonk/Southern rock tinging the performance, but it relies on stalwart instrumentation that takes on a fresh hue under Chitsey’s stewardship. His irrepressible personality burns through every second of the vocal, confident yet relaxed, and he shows veteran prowess despite being early in his career.
It’s a personality that likewise manifests itself with a solid presence, commanding your attention without ever pandering for it. You want to listen to what this guy has to say. He essays each line of the song with knowing wisdom that cuts through the music and has a magnetizing effect on listeners. Chitsey draws from a tradition in the genre that he knows well and hearing him interpret it for listeners is all the confirmation we need that, in the hands of performers such as this, the classic country style has continuing relevance in 2024.
The arrangement is cut from the same tradition, yes, but Chitsey spikes it with enough rough and ready rock and roll attitude that it packs more of a punch than you may suspect. It’s a by-product of Chitsey’s thorough education on the Texas honkytonk circuit mixed with a dollop of Southern rock. It’s a winning combination for me. In particular, the guitar work flexes a great deal of muscle throughout the arrangement but never overstates its presence.
There’s no wasting the listener’s time either. The song could scarcely be more succinct hitting the three-minute mark and eschewing any extended instrumental breaks. The one conceivably “flash” moment in the song, the bridge, is a moment that Chitsey handles artfully and with the same directness defining the remainder of the track. There’s no putting on airs with this song.
The same is true about the lyrics. Chitsey’s words communicate with listeners on an everyday level absent any pseudo-poetic flourishes that would otherwise undermine the composition. I admire how he can sing a song about the restorative powers of whiskey without ever once reducing the song to a lowest common denominator level. This isn’t a “hey, let’s get drunk” song. It isn’t high-flown, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s more a thoughtful lament than anything else.
It’s a fascinating song in many respects. It isn’t every performer, regardless of genre, who’s capable of making the every day resonate with audible substance. The musicianship is never ostentatious, but nonetheless deeply felt and even classy. “Life Is Hard, Whiskey Is Easy” reminds me of the life-affirming country songs that my father used to listen to on country radio circa 198- and, ultimately, I can hardly imagine greater praise than that. It’s a feeling that comes without imitation. Chris Chitsey’s music draws from a recognizable frame of reference, but he’s his own man, and this is his music.