Brandon Hardesty of Bumpin Uglies presents emotionally charged acoustic album

Brandon Hardesty of Bumpin Uglies presents emotionally charged acoustic album

One of the best parts about writing music reviews is that no one can judge you for obsessively playing the same song or album over and over again. Thankfully, I had this excuse when listening to Bumpin Uglies’ acoustic album, Underdog: The Acoustic Sessions. I may have even listened to the original track sandwiched between the acoustic version. It’s research, you guys! 

Anyway, as I pulled up the tracklist, I heard myself reading the song titles aloud followed by a variety of exclamations; pleasantly surprised by the 16 chosen songs. Acoustic “Locust Avenue” and “Wild Girls”, are you kidding me?!

Frontman, Brandon Hardesty, known for his exquisite lyricism, took on this project all by himself with nothing but an acoustic guitar; pure, raw and recorded live. The guy is spoiling us!

I don’t usually write album reviews song by song but in this case, I had to. Each song deserves individual attention as the emotional rollercoaster we are brought on every time the track changes is sincerely unique and impactful. However, since I know we live in the age of immediacy.

I’ve provided a TL;DR at the bottom.

“Locust Avenue” 

“Locust Avenue” is the first track on Underdog: The Acoustic Sessions and it’s the first track on BU’s Buzz EP (2019), which is where we were originally introduced to this banger. When plugged in, “Locust Avenue” plays as an energetic and upbeat ska-punk song that invites listeners back to their teenage years. The song features vibrant horn sections and catchy guitar riffs; making it perfect for crazy dancing and scream-singing. As one of the most lively songs within the BU discography, you can see why I was intrigued by its inclusion in this album.

Acoustic songs are almost exclusively referred to as “stripped down” and by definition, I can see why. However, somehow Hardesty has managed to simultaneously strip down a song while also maintaining the gut punches delivered in his electric versions, including “Locust Avenue”. Go ahead and skip to the 2-minute, 25-second mark if you don’t believe me. The acoustic version tells the same chaotic story as the electric version. How Hardesty depicts that same energy with just an acoustic guitar is musical wizardry.

“City by the Bay”

Released in 2018 on Beast From The East, “City by the Bay” is fairly raw to begin with. Plugged in, this song has listeners swaying side to side as opposed to jumping up and down. The smooth reggae-influenced song pays tribute to the Mid-Atlantic region as it is home to the Chesapeake Bay (and to Hardesty himself). The rhythm section is strong, on point, and is coupled with beautiful melodic support from the horn section. Listeners are overcome with a sense of calmness and tranquility. The hooks are catchy and the lyrics are easy to sing along to. “City by the Bay” is a soothing and delightful tune that captures the essence of growing up.

One of my favorite things about Bumpin Uglies, more specifically, Brandon’s songwriting, is how relatable the stories he tells are. As a 30-something-year-old that moved away years ago, when listening to the unplugged version of “City by the Bay”, it feels as though Brandon has gone back home with me. I remember the last time I drove down Main Street, I barely recognized any restaurants or storefronts; “and the bars we used to sneak in, they all go by different names”. The electric version guides listeners through a prideful look back on hometowns and the roots that those towns have instilled in all of us. Alternatively, the acoustic version of this hit has listeners feeling nostalgic and even a bit homesick – think Springsteen, “Glory Days” vibes.


This is the first “treat” Hardesty gives us on the album. I call it a treat because it’s the original. At this time, there is no full-band counterpart but if you’ve caught any of the early releases dropped by BU or if you attended a Meet & Greet VIP Session during the Bumpin Uglies Mid-Atlantic Dub Tour you have likely already heard this masterpiece.

In this song, Hardesty expresses a very specific topic in a way that everyone can relate to. “Underdog” definitively discusses the music industry; a topic which the large majority of us experience from the outside. Brandon, however, found a way to utilize that theme while still masterfully validating any shortcomings that non-musicians may face in their life.

“Underdog” has a natural and organic sound outside the lyrics and relatable content. Brandon ferociously plucks at his guitar strings, each twang resonates within the ear and holds on for an extra second. The strong annunciation of every syllable sits atop that guitar twang like a cherry on top of a sundae, sweet and delicious. 

“Wild Girls”

Honestly, I couldn’t believe this one is included in Underdog. “Wild Girls” dropped last year on the band’s most recent and most successful album release to date, Mid-Atlantic Dub (2022). The entirety of the track consists of non-stop party imagery; none of which screams “acoustic”. That same lyrical imagery is accompanied by a fun and upbeat ska-punk sound that celebrates the wild and free spirit of women. The song is characterized by fast-paced guitar riffs, pulsing drums, and dynamic horn sections, creating an infectious atmosphere for dancing and singing along. Before hearing it on Underdog, my brain could not comprehend how Hardesty would keep the integrity of the song while completely stripping away some huge components that make this song the anthem that it is. 

But… he freaking did it! Again, Hardesty pulls that same gut punch we heard in “Locust Avenue” despite completely removing the ska-punk sound and feel from the track. Still impressive. Still wizardry. He does take this track from 2 minutes and 46 seconds down to 1 minute and 47 seconds. The cut is definitely noticeable but when you listen to both versions back to back it’s clear that the shorter run time is due to cutting out the horn solos. An acoustic guitar solo in place of the horn solo wouldn’t hold the same raw vulnerability we hear in the cut. 

Ladies, you put the plugged-in, pumped-up version of “Wild Girls” on when you’re getting ready for a night out with your girls. You put the stripped-down, gut-punching acoustic version on during your walk of shame the next morning. Both tracks hit just right!

“Load In Load Out”

“Load In Load Out” is a hit from BU’s 2016 album, Keep It Together. Lyrically, the song is about the hard work and dedication that goes into being a touring musician, particularly the grueling process of setting up and tearing down equipment at each show. While “Underdog” focuses on the challenges within the music industry, “Load In Load Out” discusses the literal hard work and manpower it takes to be a musician in a touring band.

In the original version, the song opens with a catchy guitar riff and a driving beat, as Hardesty sings about the long hours and physical labor involved in loading and unloading gear. He describes the process of packing up the van and hitting the road after a show, only to repeat the whole cycle the next day. The high-energy, upbeat music has listeners dancing as hard as these guys are working when loading in and out.

In contrast, if you haven’t spent the last few years obsessively listening to Bumpin Uglies as I have, the unplugged version of this song is a little easier to understand (in regards to comprehending the words). This is a perfect example of how an acoustic performance can showcase the talent and creativity of the performer in a different light than we are used to. Brandon replaces the dubbed-out reverberations in the original version with his own nuances and vocal inflections that highlight his strong harmonies. This shift has fans simultaneously gaining a deeper appreciation for the original song as well as bringing Brandon’s jaw-dropping musicianship to the forefront of our attention.

“Catch & Release”

“Catch & Release” is another “treat”. However, if you dig deep enough you can find this track listed as a single on Spotify under “Brandon Hardesty” as opposed to under Bumpin Uglies. This feel-good song is another Hardesty staple, both versions are. 

The electric version opens with a mellow guitar riff and a laid-back drumbeat. He uses a fishing metaphor as a discussion point within the realm of human nature. We’re all aimless, desiring a purpose in life, looking for meaning. We seem to think that our existence is meaningless so we carry on in search of a purpose. But Hardesty uses his unparalleled lyricism to remind us that even purposes can be fleeting. Whatever you’re carrying, good or bad, release it. Put more joy out in the world, calm your soul, whatever you’re feeling in one moment – let it live only in that moment.

“It’s just catch and release / no need to keep anything /  just breathe in the moment /  and let your worries go.”

The acoustic version hits a little differently. The stripping of all musical instruments with the exception of Hardesty’s guitar and voice is the perfect depiction of what people mean when they refer to a song as “raw”. “Catch & Release” as an acoustic song provides a different level of intimacy and an overall greater emotional expression from Hardesty. The plugged-in version of this song can sometimes feel as though the lyrics and melodies are hidden beneath the surface; limiting one’s ability to experience that intimacy. The Underdog version of “Catch & Release” remedies that feeling.

“Livestreams & Vaccines”

“Livestreams & Vaccines” is another B-Hard gem (meaning you can find it under Brandon Hardesty, instead of Bumpin Uglies). As I’m sure you can guess, the original version of this track is acoustic and was written, recorded, and released during the COVID-19 lockdown. Hardesty took the time at home to challenge himself by releasing a single a week as an exercise in songwriting and production.

You’ve got to laugh though – Anyone familiar with Hardesty knows that he is one of the hardest-working musicians in the game but his drive and work ethic are also obvious to even those unfamiliar with him or Bumpin Uglies. Admirably, the guy is always hustling. That being said, “Livestreams & Vaccines” has a release date of April 3, 2020. We hadn’t even been locked down for a month yet and he’s already busting out songs and begging to get back to work. Meanwhile, the rest of us were like “Woohoo! No work! Let’s watch Tiger King… AGAIN.” Had a good chuckle over this.

“Spinning Plates”

“Spinning Plates” is a lyrical composition that skillfully illustrates the struggles of an individual grappling with anxiety, solitude, and the apprehension of external judgment. Commencing with the humorous words, “I drink coffee until I shake, I lift weights until I ache,” it portrays someone endeavoring to shield their thoughts and emotions through external and physical pursuits. Extensive periods spent indoors seemingly serve as a refuge from the external world’s demanding expectations. A genuine work of poetic artistry.

“Spinning Plates” emerges as a potent and emotionally charged composition that delves into the complex terrain of self-doubt, anxiety, and the pursuit of self-acceptance. Hardesty’s soulful vocals and bluesy guitar, coupled with the deeply introspective lyrics, craft a captivating auditory journey. The song leaves an indelible mark, resonating with those who have also borne the weight of their own spinning plates, yearning for solace and empathy in a world marked by relentless pace and judgment.


Bumpin Uglies’ electric version of “Self-loathing” (Buzz, 2019) is a tour de force of high-energy, rock-infused reggae. The instrumentation in the original version boasts powerful electric guitars, punchy drums, and the driving bassline we have all come to know and love from the guys. The band’s signature fusion of reggae and rock is on full display, creating an irresistibly catchy and danceable groove. From the moment the song starts, it propels you into a whirlwind of emotions. The electric guitar riffs and dynamic drumming give it an edgier, almost rebellious quality.

Hardesty’s passionate and raspy vocals are perfectly suited for the song’s introspective and self-reflective lyrics. The emotional intensity of the electric version adds layers to the narrative of self-loathing and personal growth. In this version, the listener is faced with a feeling of anger. In the acoustic version, however, the listener is faced with a melancholy feeling. This dichotomy shows how the instrumentation can influence the theme of the song as much as the lyrics can.

Acoustically, “Self-loathing” is stripped down, revealing a different facet of the song. In contrast to the electric version, the acoustic rendition features simple yet soothing guitar progressions. This arrangement allows the lyrics to take center stage. In this way, acoustic “Self-loathing” delivers a more intimate and introspective experience. The absence of the electric instrumentation allows the listener to focus on the vulnerability being expressed, emphasizing the theme of self-reflection. Brandon’s gruff sound in the electronic version changes to a more raw, emotive sound in the acoustic version. It feels as if Hardesty is sitting in the room with you, pouring his heart out through the lyrics.

The acoustic version of “Self-loathing” offers a unique perspective on the song’s evolution, showing that a powerful rock-reggae track can be transformed into a moving, soul-searching ballad without losing its essence.

The electric and acoustic versions of “Self-loathing” are a testament to Brandon’s versatility as a musician. Each rendition offers a distinct and insightful listening experience. The electric version excels in its infectious energy and memorability, while the acoustic version shines in its emotional depth and intimacy. Ultimately, both versions of the song are a testament to his ability to connect with listeners on a profound level. 

“The Work”

Released on Spotify as a single under Brandon Hardesty in 2015, “The Work” is already an original acoustic song. Written as his vows for his wedding day, Hardesty’s song is a riveting and earnest declaration of love and promises. Verse after verse, he bares his soul and delivers a thought-provoking message that resonates with anyone who has experienced the complexities of love and the commitments that go along with spending the rest of your life with one person. 

The lyrics of “The Work” are a refreshing departure from the clichéd promises found in many love songs. Hardesty’s sincerity shines through as he candidly admits his imperfections and limitations, setting a genuine tone that instantly pulls at your heartstrings. He acknowledges that perfection is out of reach and instead focuses on the essence of love: the effort and dedication required to make a relationship thrive.

The song’s simplicity works in its favor, with just a lone acoustic guitar accompanying Hardesty’s impassioned vocals. This minimalistic approach enhances the song’s emotionally evocative power, allowing the lyrics to take center stage. 

Once again, yet in an entirely different way, Hardesty’s candid and heartfelt approach in this acoustic song is a testament to the power of vulnerability and authenticity in his music.

“Shades of Grey”

“Shades of Grey” (Keep your suitcase packed., 2020) is a song that explores the nuances between religion and faith, emphasizing the complex and ever-present shades of gray in life. 

Electronically,  “Shades of Grey” encapsulates the BU’s signature fusion of reggae, and rock, mixed with hints of punk and ska. With a dynamic mix of electric guitars, drums, and bass, this rendition carries a sense of urgency and energy as Hardesty reaches into the depths of his diaphragm. The electrified sound amplifies the message of the song, emphasizing the contrast between religion and faith and even the lack thereof. The powerful instrumentation provides a fitting backdrop for the lyrics, creating a memorable and immersive listening experience.

On the other hand, the acoustic version of “Shades of Grey” strips away the electric intensity and offers a more introspective and intimate interpretation. With an acoustic guitar as the only instrumentation of focus, this rendition places the spotlight on the depth of Brandon’s masterful storytelling. The acoustic version allows the listener to connect with the song on a deeper level, highlighting the lyrical message of embracing the ambiguity and complexity of life. It’s a testament to Hardesty’s versatility as a musician, showing that the same song can evoke different emotions and reflections depending on the musical arrangement.

Plugged in, “Shades of Grey” captivates with its headbanging performance, while the acoustic version invites introspection and contemplation. Regardless of the version you prefer, both renditions offer a spellbinding exploration of the delicate balance between religion and faith and the multitude of shades of gray that define our existence.


I almost cried when I saw this title on the tracklist. I’m not sure if Brandon remembers this and I’m a little embarrassed about it but when this song first came out and I heard it for the first time, I immediately jumped on social media and thanked Brandon for writing and releasing this song. It felt as if Brandon, again, was singing about my hometown, my high school, my friends – spiraling into the world of oxycontin with only a few coming out of it alive.

The folksy sound of the original version (Keep your suitcase packed., 2020) is not the normal ska-punk-reggae sound we usually hear from Bumpin Uglies but man does it still punch you right in the gut.

These lyrics are a tantalizing and powerful narrative that explores the harrowing journey of a young athlete who falls victim to the opioid epidemic. The song paints a vivid picture of his rise and fall, starting with his athletic prowess and dreams of success, then descending into heirloom pawning, full-blown addiction, and despair.

With a more folksy sound, the original doesn’t differ as drastically from the acoustic version as many of the other songs. However, one component that does stand out when listening to both versions. 

Plugged in, “Suburbia” sounds as though Brandon is telling a story from a distance. Acoustically, “Suburbia” sounds as though Brandon is narrating a devastating downfall in real-time. Maybe this can be attributed to the different ways in which each version was recorded. Maybe it’s because the entire Underdog: The Acoustic Sessions album sounds as though we were invited into the studio by Hardesty himself.

“Keep Moving”

THIS ONE. “Keep Moving” (Keeping It Together, 2016) is a surprise slap track, both the original and the acoustic versions are, actually. 

Electronically, “Keep Moving” does just that. quite literally. From the second you press play this song goes full force. There is no slow introduction to this bad boy. Fans will find themselves skanking to this high-energy, dubbed-out, punk-heavy original while working hard at singing along with Brandon as he masterfully speeds through the verses only letting you catch up when the chorus comes around. Here, Hardesty makes you feel as though you are running full speed through all your trials and tribulations; keep moving as fast as you can – don’t let them catch you.

Acoustically, Hardesty will have you weeping to the beat as he strums his six-string and you clutch the neck of your shirt (unless you’re like Brandon and rarely ever wear a shirt). This version slows way down and forces you to really pay attention. Here, Hardesty, makes you feel like you’re strategic. Your trials and tribulations stand no chance because you keep moving and each move outsmarts the last. 

**Important note: After hearing this song on Underdog: The Acoustic Sessions you’re going to want to rewind it. The nine tearjerking seconds, you’re looking for are from 2:10 to 2:19. You’re welcome.

“Loneliness in Ab”

In a show of true musicianship, Hardesty found a way to pack an enormous amount of energy into an acoustic song. Through guitar strumming and unfiltered lyrics, “Loneliness in Ab” paints a raw and emotionally charged picture of Hardesty’s inner struggles.

The song navigates various themes, from the universal longing for love and validation to the relentless pursuit of personal freedom and self-expression. It fearlessly challenges societal norms, encapsulating feelings of isolation while highlighting an unwavering determination to establish self-worth set against a backdrop of defiance against societal expectations.

Musically, “Loneliness in Ab” enchants listeners who appreciate the provocative power of introspective acoustic compositions. The melodies create an intimate atmosphere yet still packs a punch. Hardesty, again, turns to his emotion-inducing raspy scream/singing; hitting you right in the heart.

“Loneliness in Ab” is a soul-stirring acoustic masterpiece that highlights Brandon Hardesty’s remarkable talent for conveying profound emotions and thoughts through his music. It not only encourages listeners to contemplate their own experiences but also underscores the universal yearning for authenticity and purpose in life. The song’s acoustic beauty serves as the perfect backdrop for this introspective journey.

“This is Ours”

“This is Ours” (Buzz EP, 2019) is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. I said that before even hearing the acoustic version. I stand by that statement having now heard them both.

The stricking piano and violin alongside subtle drum tapping can be heard as Brandon professes an undying love of his wife, his family, and the life they have built together, that they continue to build together. It’s beautiful, it’s vulnerable, it’s unique.

In the acoustic version, Brandon strips away the piano, the violin, the drums – everything except his voice and his guitar; in a sobering yet eloquent move. 

“Jerry’s Song”

“Jerry’s Song” expresses a deeply personal and emotional connection between Brandon and his departed father. The specific details Brandon shares with us through his songs are one of the reasons he is considered to be one of the best songwriters of all time; “Out in Ocean City / I can feel you in the air / the saltwater tastes like summer / and when it rained / we’d catch a movie that we were too young for / you always said that age was just a number.” A picture painted so perfectly, I feel as though I went to the movies with them.

“Jerry’s Song” captures the essence of a relationship through small details and memories, like the raunchy country song that used to make the loved one smile and the scent of coffee on their breath. It’s a poignant tribute to the impact on Brandon’s life and their shared father-son experiences.

Musically, the song leans towards a typical acoustic style, allowing the lyrics and emotions to take center stage. Acoustic music often serves as a vehicle for intimate and compelling storytelling, and this song is no exception. It creates an atmosphere of reflection and nostalgia, inviting listeners to connect with the emotions conveyed in the lyrics. Hardesty masterfully portrays this in “Jerry’s Song” but also within Underdog: The Acoustic Sessions as a whole.


Underdog: The Acoustic Sessions stands as a brilliant opus by the gifted musician Brandon Hardesty of Bumpin Uglies. In this musical masterpiece consisting of 16 tracks, nine of which have graced our ears before, and seven previously unreleased or single releases, in which Hardesty showcases his profound musical genius. What sets this album apart is Hardesty’s remarkable ability to transform a single song into an emotional kaleidoscope through diverse musical arrangements.

Hardesty’s songwriting prowess shines brightly throughout the album, leaving an indelible mark on listeners. The lyrics touch on a spectrum of emotions that resonate deeply with the human experience. When Hardesty combines his lyrical prowess with the evocative power of acoustic instrumentation, the result is a profoundly moving musical journey that ranks among the most emotionally charged albums of all time.

Underdog: The Acoustic Sessions is a testament to Brandon Hardesty’s unparalleled musical talent and his ability to craft timeless, emotionally resonant music that will continue to captivate audiences for generations to come.

Artist Links: Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

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Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.

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