[21 October 2008]
The son and grandson of country music legends, Shelton Hank Williams III (just “III” to his evergrowing legion of dedicated fans) had a lot to live up to before he even stepped on a stage. Luckily he’s seemed to have inherited his namesakes’ showmanship and their love of illicit substances to go with it. While Shelton is certainly influenced by the classic honkytonk sound of his grandfather, his music also reflects the sound of his youth: hardcore punk and metal. If Webb Pierce and Dimebag Darrell had ever formed a barroom band, the resulting sound might be something like Hank III’s genre blend.
Damn Right Rebel Proud, Williams’ fourth studio album (he’s also released several bootlegs, to the perpetual consternation of label exec Mike Curb) certainly doesn’t cover any new lyrical ground. The subject matter is the same as it was on his previous albums: getting drunk, getting stoned, and the numerous faults of the commercial country music industry, with a couple of no account women thrown in for good measure. But what Hank III lacks in artistic growth, he more than makes up for in passion, a trait evident not only on the album, but during his nightly two-plus hour shows before audiences of country grandfathers and metalhead grandsons alike.
The opening song, “The Grand Ole Opry (Ain’t So Grand)”, addresses Williams’s concerns about his grandfather’s dismissal from the Opry and possibilities for reinstatement. Of course, to actually be an Opry member, one has to be, well, alive, but the sentiment behind the song is admirable, especially when one considers that despite Williams Sr.‘s expulsion, current guests at the Opry are greeted by a Hank Williams impersonator. The lyrics are somewhat sophomoric, Hank III still subscribing to the mad-bad-sad rhyme scheme, but like his father and grandfather before him, he makes the simple sound profound, and his passion for the Reinstate Hank campaign may just light a fire under listeners as well.
The strongest song of the album is also its longest, clocking in at just over ten minutes. “P.F.F.” begins with a screamed dedication to deceased, poo-flinging punk rocker G.G. Allin before racing headlong into breakneck picking and the shouted chorus. Then after a brief, spoken-word interlude, Williams performs the song again, this time in slow, country fashion, before ending with repeated chants of “G.G.” Granted, the lyrics about “find[ing] a whore and fuck[ing] her until she’s black and blue” may not appeal to the more traditional of Williams’s fans, but damn if this song isn’t infectious.
Twelve of the album’s 13 songs are written by Williams. “Workin’ Man” is written by Bob Wayne, III’s guitar tech who also fronts gothic country band Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies. Wayne is also a game duet partner on this track; his quasi-recitation vocals serving as the perfect counterpoint for Williams’s rasp. III does just fine on his own too, on the solo “3 Shades of Black”, which showcases his roadworn voice and hardcore-influenced songwriting.
It seems as though the notoriously outspoken Williams has at least one unburned bridge in Nashville, courtesy of bemulleted neotraditionalist Marty Stuart, who lends some mandolin to the honkytonking “Wild & Free”. Guest stars Donnie Herron (BR549), Randy Kohrs, and legendary session banjoist Charlie Cushman also chip in, while the rest is left up to III’s Damn Band stalwarts, namely bassist/scariest man alive Joe Buck, fiddle player Adam McOwen, and steel guitarist Andy Gibson.
Hank Williams III certainly isn’t the hillbilly Shakespeare. Hell, he isn’t even the hillbilly Alexander Pope. But he gets the job done. If you’re angry, brokenhearted, under the influence of various substances, screwed over by both your woman and The Man, and you just spilled whiskey on your favorite Misfits t-shirt, Damn Right Rebel Proud is very possibly your perfect soundtrack.