Let the Rebel Out So He Can Scream
Hank Willams III—affectionately shortened to Hank III—is the grandson of Hank Williams, Sr., a legend in country music and the author of such gems like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hey Good Lookin’.” Covered in tattoos and full of piss and vinegar, his origins are undoubtedly in country music but his interest in punk and metal drove his label and, no doubt, his family, to the brink of rejection for years. Hank III’s relationship with Curb Records ends with this, his most recent album The Rebel Within. And on “Tore Up & Loud,” he lets us know just how he feels about that with a big ol’ “After 14 years I’m finally mothafuckin’ free” and a hardy “Fuck all y’all!.”
It’s a magical thing to see his grandson live a life splitting time as a country crooner and as the frontman for country-metal mavens Assjack. However, the punk and the hillbilly really only coexist on two songs on The Rebel Within: the title track and “Tore Up & Loud.” On the title track, he works a surprise Cookie Monster growl into the chorus, an echoing scream that’s damn near indecipherable, and there’s not much else punk about the song otherwise. On “Tore Up & Loud,” there’s actually a long instrumental break of punk-fueled energy, but throughout the song you’re half-expecting the song to burst open into an anarchy rally. “I know how to fuck, and I know how to fight / I love raising hell on a Saturday night” he murmurs, knowingly.
Hank III owns the distinction of being the only man in country music to earn himself a Parental Advisory sticker, and you can see why. He’s got a dirty mouth and a penchant for drugs of all kinds. Songs about boozing follow a strong tradition of writing blues about numbing emotional pain with liquor, and he bears that cross with work like “Drunk,” “Drinkin’ Ain’t Hard to Do,” and stumbling to stay on his feet in “Moonshiner’s Life” (one of the record’s best moments). On “Moonshiner’s Life” we get expert fiddle-picking from Billy Contreras, while “Lost In Oklahoma” features an awe-inspiring steel guitar solo from Andy Gibson. You can clearly see that even though Hank III has enjoyed challenging country convention, he’s also well-informed and practiced in its sonic storytelling.
For those unfamiliar with his special blend of punk and country (sometimes called “cowpunk”), Hank’s a shock to the system. It’s not often that you get to hear this blend of sounds and aesthetics, but for The Rebel Within and for Hank in general it works. It makes listeners wonder why there isn’t more of this. That’s because Hank’s an odd bird; there aren’t many like him, before or since. In 2011 we’re expecting a self-released album called Whiskey Hound with a Southern Sound. No one knows how punk he’ll get, and yet that mystique still sounds like something worth drinkin’ to.