From One Ghost to Another
When we last left Hank Williams III in 2010, he delved into some of the darkest content of his career on Rebel Within. Probably not coincidentally, it was his final album done with the label Curb Records that he publicly and privately did battle with. Before that, he had begun to merge the metal and country sides of his music together on the raucous 2008 release Damn Right, Rebel Proud. Finally free from Curb, Hank III has released four new albums worth of music on the same day, (two of which packaged as a double album) splitting his different styles into each album. Guttertown, 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin’ and Attention Deficit Domination have been covered elsewhere on mxdwn already, so this review will center on Guttertown‘s first half, Ghost to a Ghost.
It’s impossible to discuss this album without considering Hank III’s masterpiece, the epic 2006 double-album Straight to Hell. Where Straight to Hell was a freight train of full-throttle outlaw country, Ghost to a Ghost is the outlaw style, only at a more moderate pace. “Day by Day” and album opener “Guttertown” have the same joyous spirit III is known for, it’s just a tinge slower in pace. There’s nothing wrong with the speed, but for those dedicated to his Straight to Hell material, the tempo shift is instantly noticeable. Nevertheless, the unrefined, unpolished country of this part of the new four-album monstrosity is the most accessible of the four. “Ray Lawrence Jr.”–a double song in itself–is a soothing number, perfect for a warm night sitting on a front porch.
The album finds some of the darker territory explored on Rebel Within too, this time in the form of “The Devil’s Movin’ In.” Dedicated fans will most likely remember that parts of this song, such as the lyric, “Lord I’m falling further day by day” from their original inclusion on “Angel of Sin” off of Straight to Hell, here rendered somber more than the weary tone on the original. “Time to Die” and “Riding the Wave” take the darkness to previously unexplored depths by way of stylistic expansion, the former a string-laden creep-out with multi-tracked vocals and the latter a patient dirge with Zydeco flair.
On the more eclectic end, Hank III even incorporates some samples of his dog Trooper on “Troopers Hollar.” The title track veers fully away from country into a contradictory blend of catchy melodies and ominous ambience. It’s as much man-against-the-world storytelling as it is spooky cinematic grandeur. If there ever was ever a song of Hank III’s that could be a huge hit, this is it. Elsewhere, he opts for unabashedly straightforward on “Don’t Ya Wanna” (sample lyric: “And I’m looking for a girl who wants to fuck”) and “Cunt of a Bitch.”
On this part of Hank III’s four-album showdown, he shows the accumulated skill of his nonstop recording and touring schedule. He’s yet again found a way to imbue the truest parts of old school country into his music, and somehow still find a way to drag it into the future. It might be a bit off-putting to hardcore fans expecting the rowdy uptempo work from a few years back, but an artist like Hank III can’t be begrudged for finding ways to reinvent himself. Even country music can evolve with the times after all.