Recordings: Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell

    When it comes to musical birthrights, famous sons/second bananas like Jakob Dylan, Julian Lennon and Damien Marley have nothing on Hank Williams III. Grandson and uncanny vocal doppelgänger of the king of country-western music (Hank Sr.), and son of fat-voiced ’80s star Hank Jr., No. 3 has a lot of musical genius to live up to.

    Hank Williams III – Straight to Hell

    Maybe that’s why he picked up a reefer habit (how un-country) and fled the scene to play in hardcore punk bands for a piece. Too bad then that Hank III’s love for bands like Black Flag has become his gimmick — he’s country music for the Warped Tour kids, playing it fast and loose and filled with barfights, rebellion and stumbling drunkenness — so, what’s exactly wrong with that again?

    The first thing to be said about Straight to Hell: The band plays country music better than most Nashville sessioneers. Fiddle, banjo and steel guitar licks peel off the record like coked-out “Deliverance” outtakes, along with III’s voice, most times like a raspier, pissed-off Sr. — athough he can duplicate his grandpa’s nasally wail, as in a minute 6 (of the 42 minute “secret” track) sadder-than-Sr. cover of “I Could Never Be Ashamed Of You.”

    They rip through barnburners and haystack ballads with a tight, well-rehearsed focus, making for an authentic set of country tunes. The quick ones are the most remarkable, leaping from verse to fiddle solo to pedal steel like ole Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, but fast almost to the breaking point. It’s the perfect template to talk shit on Nashville’s pop-trash, which, along with drinking and smoking (weed), is the story behind Hank III’s music here, earning the album an extremely rare (for country) parental advisory sticker.

    If it were from any other musician, the anti-Nashville sentiment of Straight to Hell would seem forced, with lyrics like “The kind of country I hear nowadays/ It’s a bunch of fucking shit to me” and “Let’s get stoned and proud,” but with the Williams heirloom vocals and the hellbilly band behind him, the message comes out as strangely legitimate — who else but Hank Williams can tell the Nashville empire it has no clothes?

    He’s got the voice, the chops, the band and the fightin’ spirit to easily surpass his father, and make for himself a legend of which Hank Sr. would be proud. Hopefully he’ll decide to take the genre back from its corruptors (radio country), instead of simply cussin’ ‘em out from the bars and the punk clubs, because, if anyone can, Hank III will live up to the Williams name.

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