Posts Tagged ‘ Hank3 ’

Hank3’s 2013 Releases (Music Review)

Two years ago, Hank3 released four albums from very different genres. Some were much better than others. Now he’s back with two albums (one a double) that total almost two and a half hours of playtime. It’s not surprising that one of them is country (Brothers of the 4×4) and the other punk (A Fiendish Threat), but it is interesting to see that neither is very similar to what he was doing in 2011. Love him or hate him, it’s obvious that he’s always pushing himself and unwilling to play it safe.

A Fiendish Threat cover

Hank3 – A Fiendish Threat

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: The punk album is disappointing. It’s not bad, but it rarely feels like his heart is in it, either. It became obvious with his last crop of releases that Hank3 has only a passing interest in lyrics and mostly focuses on constructing soundscapes. But punk has to be a lot more about the lyrics and less about the “construction”, so it mainly sounds like an imitation of a genre he’s interested in. Some songs use sped-up country instruments and rhythms, which add a unique twist, but otherwise this doesn’t stand out. Hank3 needs to find a producer and editor he can trust, rather than running everything himself, because someone else would have made this leaner and shorter. More importantly, Hank3 needs to figure out what he wants to say when he does this. It’s a good sound, but it’s not compelling punk.

Brothers of the 4x4 cover

Hank3 – Brothers of the 4×4

Brothers of the 4×4, on the other hand, is one of his best albums. He obviously isn’t beholden to the over-the-top rebellion he pioneered in the last decade, but he isn’t necessarily interested in returning to his early traditional music, either. That rebel is still part of him, but he doesn’t feel the need to press the issue. Songs here are more likely to be about complex relationships or his love of nature as partying and fighting. In fact, “Farthest Away” is a surprisingly introspective song about a relationship growing cold, and in “The Outdoor Plan” he sounds more excited about finding bear tracks than he used to be about drugs. He even talks about wanting to find a woman to settle down with. There’s no doubt that this is an honest slice of life from someone who refuses to be pigeonholed by anything in his past.

The songs are long, though. Almost half of them cross the six-minute mark, and album-opener “Nearly Gone” is eight and a half. The first time I listened to it, I was saying “this sounds good, but it’s a bit long” by four minutes. Long, repetitive refrains and instrumental breaks are used in almost every song.

They sound good, though, and I enjoy it now that I’m over the initial shock. Hank3 has written good songs, and he takes the time to play with each one’s sound. I wouldn’t quite call this his “jam band album”, but if I wanted to convince someone from that scene to try country music, this wouldn’t be a bad album to start with. Each song does have a distinct sound, from the electric riffs in “Hurtin For Certin” to the clawhammer banjo in “Possum In A Tree”.

The lyrics are still sometimes weak. I can ignore the repeated “Losing like a loser who’s got nothing to lose” in the otherwise-good “Deep Scars”, but “Held Up” is nothing but bad repetitive rhymes about visiting each southern state. (“Ain’t nothin’ like the feel of Virginia’s vagine.” Seriously?) Hank3 isn’t stuck in the trap of repeating themes from old albums, though, as he seemed to be in 2011, and so they are almost always new and interesting enough to carry the songs.

The 89-minute running time gives me plenty of chances to enjoy it and then to get bored. As with A Fiendish Threat, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone else to force Hank3 to pare this down sometimes. However, most of it is very good, and I think that almost every song on here will be someone’s favorite. Personally, I keep coming back to the catchy “Hurtin for Certin”, the freewheeling groove of “Dread Full Drive” and “Toothpickin”, and the depressed, human groove of “Deep Scars” and “Farthest Away”. “Looky Yonder Commin” is also a great song full of personality and confidence, which surprised me because the odes to his coon-hunting dog were the weakest part of his last country albums.

A lot of baggage and expectations always come along with Hank3’s new albums, but if you set all that aside and just look at the music, Brothers of the 4×4 may be his strongest country effort ever. He’s confident and experienced, and that rebel energy that could have driven him to an early grave has instead been harnessed to keep him experimenting with new sounds. This one has a couple songs that just need to go, and several more that should have been cut back, but there’s still more than one full album of great stuff here.

A Fiendish Threat: C

Brothers of the 4×4: B+

 
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Ray Lawrence Jr. – Raw & Unplugged (Music Review)

Raw & Unplugged cover

Ray Lawrence Jr. - Raw & Unplugged

Ray Lawrence Jr. is positioned for the archetypal country success story. Broke, divorced, and living in a homeless shelter when someone gave him an old guitar, he eventually found himself given a seven-minute spotlight on Hank3’s Ghost To A Ghost album. Lawrence’s simple, traditional approach made a great counterpoint to the rest of that aggressive album, but the songs would have stood out anywhere.

If Lawrence’s rise continues, though, it won’t be due to his first full album. Rushed straight to CD Baby to take advantage of the sudden attention, Raw & Unplugged features nothing but Lawrence singing and playing acoustic guitar. These country ballads certainly don’t need fancy production – that big break was with recordings of him in the back of Hank3’s bus, after all – but he could have used a fuller band. The guitar work is better described as “minimalist” than “simple”, and Lawrence’s voice doesn’t have the energy that it did when surrounded by fellow musicians.

Do the songs live up to the promise of those initial hits? Sometimes. Lawrence is a very traditional songwriter, more in line with Hank Sr. than the standard-bearers of later generations. He’s also focused on pain and no-good women almost to the point of parody. Songs like “Two Timin Mama”, “She Stopped Lovin Me”, and “There’s Another Cheatin Heart” apparently cover what he knows, but don’t offer a lot of variety. His voice is perfect for those mournful ballads, though, to the point where he even sounds defeated when the song has him courting women. (“Tonight She’ll Be Making Love To Me Again” simply makes him the lucky recipient of a cheating woman’s affections, but still seems to regret the other man’s situation.) Maybe, though, he intends to sound hopeless when going after women: The less said about his approach on “You Can Hide Your Body But You Can’t Hide Your Beauty”, the better.

Despite all that, Lawrence knows how to write a memorable song. “She Stopped Lovin Me” and “My Hurtin Will Be Done” are every bit as good as the songs that appeared Ghost To A Ghost. “Lot Lizards Don’t Love You”, a trucker’s guide to prostitutes, also stands out. It’s good enough to support the gimmicky nature, but the delivery makes it clear that it’s not intended as a gimmick after all. He has that classic gift of making simple, personal tales feel memorable and catchy.

I firmly believe that Ray Lawrence Jr. has at least one great album in him. He has some handicaps, most notably that he’s decades too old to still be in these early stages of artistic development. Raw & Unplugged mixes great songwriting with too much filler, but it’s still notable for the level of raw talent on display. It’s chief selling point is the vision it provides of Lawrence’s potential future. As an album on its own, though, it feels incomplete.

Grade: C


Hank3’s Four September Releases (Music Review)

Though Hank Williams III, or Hank3, revitalized the country music scene with his metal-influenced outlaw approach, he’s seemed to be on a slow decline ever since the seminal Straight To Hell. Though even his lesser output was still notable, everyone has been wondering what would happen once his contract with Curb Records finally ended and their legal and creative feuds would finally be done. As 2011 began and Hank3 was free, though, there were several months of no news at all. When news finally did come, it made up for the long silence: Hank3 released four new albums on the same day in early September, showcasing the variety of directions he was now free to go in.

The albums are out now, and they definitely do have an impressive variety and dedication. They sometimes make an argument that his corporate controllers had kept him from embarrassing mistakes, but they also have some pretty amazing moments that could never have been accomplished as long as he was forced to play it safe and worry about commercial concerns. These may not be the best albums of 2011, but it is the biggest musical event of the year.

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Hank Williams III – Rebel Within (Music Review)

Rebel Within cover

Hank III - Rebel Within

“Getting drunk and falling down has taken its toll on me,” announces Hank III as his latest album opens. That message repeats throughout Rebel Within. Even his unrepentant hard-partying tracks mention “the curse of living out my songs”, and hard drugs only come up in reference to the damage they have done to him or his friends. Is the icon of the country-metal scene finally reaching his limit?

There are other possibilities. Williams and Curb Records have fought repeatedly, both in and out of court, and the label even released Straight To Hell under the new name “Bruc Records” to avoid the embarrassment of publishing the first-ever major country CD with a parental advisory label. Rebel Within marks the end of Williams’ contract with Curb, and he has publicly said that he is keeping his best music in reserve for afterwards. Perhaps he just figured that he would have to fight with the label less if he churned out stories about his suffering along with his hell-raising.

It won’t be possible to fully understand this album until we see what he does now that he’s free. In addition to announcing that his lifestyle is catching up with him, Williams also takes his songwriting in a different direction. With this album, a majority of the songs find him solidly in the “country storyteller” vein that faded from fashion a few decades ago. It’s a good sound for him, whether it’s a permanent direction or just a temporary swerve to remind pop country fans what a rich history they are missing. However, these slow, steady songs do feel a little out of place next to the wilder ones like “Rebel Within” or “Tore Up And Loud”.

Of course, it’s hard to ignore Williams’ claim that he is intentionally keeping his best music off of this album. There is a ring of truth to that. It seems that many of the songs either go on for at least half a minute too long or repeat lyrics in places where something different should have been written. The worst offender is “#5”, a mournful song about needing to give up drugs before they kill him. At four minutes, this would have been the emotional core of the album. Stretched out to six-and-a-half minutes, though, most of that impact is lost.

“Drinkin’ Over Momma” might show another glaring example of cut corners. For the most part, the song finds dark humor in its lyrics about a mother who abandons her family for a life of drinking. But in the verse about finding his father a replacement wife, the narrator uses two of the four lines to announce that “she’s gonna have to clean all our shotguns/and skin those critters we bring home”. I don’t question that hunting would be a part of this family’s life, but it hardly seems like it should be the only criteria the singer would mention. Those lines veer dangerously close to the hicksploitation that Williams usually avoids so deftly.

Fortunately, even Williams’ lazier efforts are worth hearing. He still stands out in the modern country outlaw scene that he spawned, and at the best moments, you can see that he is still as innovative and risk-taking as ever, while growing more assured all the time. “Tore Up And Loud” is among his best party songs yet (well, at least until the ending, in which he just yells about being free from Curb Records), and the storytelling style adds more variety to Williams’ songwriting toolkit. This isn’t the first Hank III album anyone should buy, but it’s still good enough to impress anyone who does hear this one first.

Grade: B-