Hank Williams III - Straight to Hell Review
By Travis Becker
People fear things they can't understand. Anything puzzling or out of the norm poses big problems for certain people, and the good old boy establishment that now rules Nashville with a pair of iron boots represent the epitome of "certain people". Hank Williams III represents just that sort of problem-causing enigma. With a family tree like that of Hank Williams III, expectations are bound to be in place for the kind of music one would be expected to make. Hank III has spent his young career spitting in the face of those expectations while at the same time upholding the legacy of his grandfather and the country outlaws that came after him. On his new 2 CD set, Straight to Hell, Hank III makes his stand firmly on the side of Waylon Jennings and David Allen Coe and makes it known that the pop-with-a-fiddle churned out by Nashville is not his country music and shouldn't be anyone's. With a sound that owes as much to rock and punk as traditional country, Hank III truly arrives with this album, having harnessed his own unique musical vision and freed himself of the reins holding him back on previous efforts.
If you listen to country radio nowadays, you will not hear songs with explicit sexual or drug-related references. You won't hear profanity or vocals with even the least bit of edge or world-weariness to them. If that doesn't sound very appealing, then Hank III is the country artist for you. Williams has gathered an interesting following over the years, an eclectic mix of curious punks and metalheads, country traditionalists, and whoever else happens to show up at his endless concert dates throughout the country. This record isn't so much an extension of Hank III's rock leanings, though. People anxious for an album reminiscent of his work with Phil Anselmo's Superjoint Ritual will be disappointed. This is straight ahead country music, and while the attitude may be informed somewhat by rock and roll and punk, the stand up bass and fiddles quickly dispel any notion that this is a rock record.
The lap steel that punctuates "Things You Do to Me" and the lyrics detailing the woman that got away and the drinking that follows sounds like pretty cut and dry, clichι country, but the sneer is evident in III's lyrical stylings. Hank III's voice is much closer to the high twang of his grandfather than that of his boisterous father and the loneliness and feeling inject the songs with a feeling of loss and sadness that no production tricks ever could. "Thrown Out of the Bar" and "Country Heroes" pay tribute to the artists that got Williams to where he is now and lament the loss of the country outlaw. "Low Down" bounces and jaunts along as a rolling country ballad that wouldn't sound out of place on a Marshall Tucker record. The lyrics, however, stick to familiar subject matter for III-the wild, self destructive life style he embraces so enthusiastically. While drugs and debauchery rule the day, things never get too heavy, and songs like "My Drinkin Problem" and "The Pills I Took" recall Johnny Paycheck, Coe, or even the early humorous songs of Dr. Hook. "Crazed Country Rebel" throws an absolute middle finger in the face of the squeaky clean image of modern Nashville with its tales of drugs and drifting. It's country alright, but not today's country.
Whatever shackles previously held Williams back are now completely broken on Straight to Hell as he revels in profanity and glorious depravity. What were subtle jabs at Nashville and "pop-country" music on 2002's Lovesick, Broke and Driftin' become straight rights to the bridge of the nose on Straight to Hell. Williams takes Nashville to task with the explicit lyrics of "Dick in Dixie" and the plain and simple message of "Not Everybody Likes Us." He's never been shy about his dislike for the pro-tooled, teeny-bopper country Nashville cranks out, but on this record he lets loose. So much so, the "amended" version listed on his label's parent company, Curb's, website deletes two songs completely with more pointed references to Nashville's current state. Perhaps the biggest affront to the cookie-cutter sound he so detests is the 42 minute epic on the second disc, which contains more than a half dozen songs (including his first cover of a Hank Sr. song) mixed in with strange sound effects, evangelical preaching, and animal noises all mashed up together in a big soupy, trippy, good old time. Johnny Cash would have been proud.
It's clear that Hank III wants no part of the half-assed rebelliousness of certain new country acts, or those in country who think consorting with rocks acts is enough to buy them some legitimacy. Particularly amusing is his bitchslap-in-song to Kid Rock on "Not Everybody Likes Us," in which III croons, "Just so you know/So its set in Stone/Kid Rock don't come from where I come from/yeah its true he's a yank/he ain't no son a' Hank/and if you thought so/god damn you're f***in dumb." I guess he won't be joining them for Thanksgiving. In that same song he sings about a "certain kinda living". That's what separates Hank III from every other country act out there, it's easy to believe that he lives what he sings and he means every note of it. This is the country album for everyone who thinks they hate country music. For everyone that misses Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash every time they hear a new Toby Keith song. If country is more than a big smile and a big hat to you, than Hank III is writing for you. Recommended.
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Hank Williams III - Straight to Hell
Release Date:February 28, 2006
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