Anyone hoping that Hank Williams III
's "Hellbilly" metal band Assjack would finally make it onto one of his albums is still out of luck, but Hank III
's third solo effort Straight to Hell
comes close to getting their no-quarter spirit onto plastic, if not their sound. Taking the no-frills hard-country sound of 2002's Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'
as a starting point, Straight to Hell
pumps a good bit more darkness into the mix; mostly recorded at home on a digital portastudio, Straight to Hell
begins with a sample of the Louvin Brothers
' "Satan Is Real" interrupted by a burst of demonic laughter, which then segues into the title tune, a testimony to a life of cheap thrills and dangerous living that sounds like a classic string band rounding the corners at 90-miles-an-hour with empty bottles of bourbon propping open the windows. A similar mix of old-school country and chemically-fueled rebellion run through songs like "Pills I Took" and "Smoke and Wine," and even the less menacing tunes like "My Drinking Problem" and "Angel of Sin" boast too much swagger and grit to fit comfortably on the radio next to Toby Keith
or Gretchen Wilson
. While Hank III
's self-mythologizing outlaw stance is not entirely unlike that of his father, there's a crazier and more sinister energy to Straight to Hell
than Bocephus has ever conjured up on record, and numbers like "Country Heroes" and "D. Ray White" eloquently testify to his notion that bad craziness is a long and rich tradition along the margins of Nashville. (He also has a few things to say about Hank Jr.
hanging out with Kid Rock
on "Not Everybody Likes Us" to confirm he's most certainly not turning into his dad.) The album's most extreme departure point, however, is the bonus audio collage "Louisiana Stripes," which combines a handful of high-lonesome tunes with layers of ambient noise, bits of found dialogue, dub-wise echo and reverb effects, stray telephone messages, and sound effects ranging from thunderstorms to gurgling bong water. There's a pure and soulful musical vision at the heart of Straight to Hell
no matter how much Hank III
lashes out against the confines of current country music and messes with the form, and that's what makes him most valuable as an outlaw -- there's lots of long-haired dope-smoking rednecks out there, but not many that can tap into the sweet and dirty heart of American music the way Hank III
does, and Straight to Hell
proves he's got a whole lot to say on that particular subject.