You can’t say Hank Williams III (sometimes Hank III or Hank 3) isn’t prolific. Well, I suppose you could, but it would make you a big ol’ fuckin’ asshole of a liar. Since his first solo album Risin’ Outlaw in 1999, he’s released a colossal, some might say ludicrous, amount of music, giving nary a shit about genre. Aside from the obvious country and western stuff, he’s already covered punk, “hellbilly” (not to be confused with Rob Zombie‘s Hellbilly, which is a different kind of awesome), punk, metal, doom metal and cattle-calling grindcore (Yes. That is now a thing. Thanks Hank!) with no signs of settling down any time soon. Case in point – he’s just released two albums. Two double albums (although I think the doubliness varies from format to format. Either way it’s a fuck of a lot of music).The first, Brothers Of The 4×4, is straight-up, balls-out country. Kicking off with the whistled intro to “Nearly Gone,” it lifts you up by the hair and plunges you straight into Hank’s South, a land of hoedowns, broken hearts, biker crank and bar fights. Like a lairier take on The Beatles‘ “When I’m 64,” it’s all frantic banjo and scraping fiddle, topped off with that wonderful voice he inherited from his granddad. And it’s an epic, clocking in at over eight minutes. If you start dancing now you might not make it through the album. Pace yourself. Or just drink more. It’s what Hank would do. Then we get “Hurtin’ For Certin’”, in which a heartbroken Hank does a bunch of drugs and booze, and manages to sound like he’s having a pretty good time, all told. It’s definitely one of the jauntier songs I’ve heard about loss and despair.
Title track “Brothers Of The 4×4”, as you would expect, is tailor-made for driving your truck down an old dirt road. If they ever decided to do another Dukes Of Hazzard remake (although they probably shouldn’t, given that the last one was shit) this would have to feature on the soundtrack somewhere. This should have been on the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack; it would have been the perfect accompaniment to Trevor torching a meth lab in Blaine County. But of course, this being country music, you have to cry in your beer sometime. “Farthest Away” is a classic Hank 3 tear-jerker in the proper country mould.Speaking of Trevor in GTA V, if you’ve played it you’ll know that as well as brutal violence and conspiracy theories, he has a penchant for American punk radio (even to the extent of changing the radio station back if the player has the audacity to want to listen to, say, hip-hop or something). As such, he’d probably love Hank III’s other simultaneous release even more. A Fiendish Threat is the shoutier companion piece to Brothers Of The 4×4, and for me it’s probably the best exploration yet of the man’s angrier side.
Whereas his hellbilly stuff has previously tended to be basically country songs “punked-up”, on A Fiendish Threat he’s come at it from the other direction. Melodically and structurally, these are punk songs, but they’re played on banjo, stand-up bass and fiddle, with the occasional touch of Hawaiian guitar. It’s like an artifact from some parallel universe where West Coast hardcore had been invented in the South, and played on the instruments they had to hand. In other words, it’s a bit like going to a barn dance with Black Flag, and for me it’s the most coherent reconciliation of Hank III’s two most distinct aspects, and this is never more apparent than on “Feel The Sting”, whose infernal violin excesses could just as soon see it called “The Devil Went Down To Georgia, Grew A Mohawk And Set Light To A Cop Car”.It may not have the depth of “Brothers Of The 4×4”, but it more than makes up for that in anger and energy (which, as Public Image Limited taught us all those years ago, are often the same thing). Basically, it’s what Al Jourgensen‘s Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters project SHOULD have sounded like (and possibly would have, had early rumours suggesting Hank III would be involved turned out to be true) but never quite lived up to, despite itself having some moments. Although to be fair, Hank was always going to win that one; already being the most exciting country musician working today was bound to give him some kind of advantage.
So in short – a little bit country, a fuck of a lot of rock and roll. Oh, and a Hank 3 New Year to you all.