Saturday, 10 September 2011

Hank Williams III - Ghost To A Ghost/Gutter Town

Pullin' and Pushin'

This double album release doesn't, as some might imagine, present the two sides of Hank's bifurcated Country persona: the thrash/punk/shitstompin' half, and the outlaw but nearly recognisable Country other half - neither laying claim to reflect overtly traditional reference points, and both iconoclastic trademark sounds. When I reviewed his previous Hillbilly Joker it was the former Hellbilly skew that dominated and which I enjoyed and recommended in recognition of its wild and wicked lowest common denominators: expletive strewn nonsense growled to manic music.

This double album is quite different, though clearly Hank Williams III, and it is successful and surprising in the many traditional Country melodies and performances, all anchored by Hank's light but twanging voice, including growling cameos by, apparently, Tom Waits. There are 30 tracks so I won't comment on all but give a flavour of a few. Gutter Town's opening two tracks, title song and Day By Day are fiddle-filled outlaw manifestos. Third Riding The Wave merges rock violin and Country fiddle in a musical late night bar fight where bartender Hank hands out drinks like grenades. Don't Ya Wanna returns, admittedly, to more familiar territory where truck, suck and fuck form obvious rhymes, and the puerile sexual metaphors of drive my truck and play with my gun frolic through the rockabilly tune.

This is followed, however, by fifth track Ray Lawrence Jr which is ol' time country balladry par excellence. Then sixth The Devil's Movin' In layers yet more beautiful balladry, this time in a mournful and maudlin vein. The next Time To Die continues the dark tone but with velvety violin strains and thumping drums. Mood is lightened by eighth Tropper Holler where Hank reintroduces barking dogs that also yelped on Hillbilly Joker, but here their yaps keep time with the beat of its musical stomp. Silly filler stuff.

I didn't say this offering was wholly sanitised either: ninth track Cunt Of A Bitch is a gratuitously nasty tale, with a background CB radio interchange where the singing persona tells anyone listening of how he's going to kill the girl who stole his cocaine. It's wild but hardly wonderful. Going To Gutter Town takes us to the selection's farthest recorded edge, a nighttime menagerie of insect, bird, frog and other swamp calls accompanied eventually by a solo hummed and mumbled voice.

The rest of the album is more of the same always engaging twists and turns, increasingly played with Cajun rhythms and words, like Gutter Stomp, Musha's and Dyin' Day, as well as a number of intercalary experimental sounds and briefly sung vignettes. It is without question an album with a geunine, original edge that can both pull you in and push you away as a listener, and in either case you are made to react strongly. That's quite an achievement.

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