Damn Right, Rebel Proud

Hank Williams III

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Damn Right, Rebel Proud Review

by Mark Deming

Hank Williams III is an outlaw. Just ask him, he'll tell you...actually, you really don't need to bother, because Hank III goes out of his way to tell us about his whiskey guzzling, dope smoking, hell raising ways on nearly every track of his fourth album, Damn Right, Rebel Proud. While Hank made it clear on Risin' Outlaw and Lovesick, Broke & Driftin' that he had no use for the watered-down formula pablum that oozes out of Nashville these days, it wasn't until 2006's Straight to Hell that he made a record that really honored the hard-wired spirit of a guy who played bass with Superjoint Ritual when he wasn't singing pure, unfiltered honky honk country. Damn Right, Rebel Proud picks up where Straight to Hell left off, and like that album it's enthusiastically offensive enough that Curb Records has declined to put their name on it, instead reviving the Sidewalk Records imprint to keep a safe distance from songs like "Candidate for Suicide," "H8 Line," and "P.F.F" (which stands for "punch, fight and f -- -"). From a musical standpoint, Damn Right, Rebel Proud is every bit as solid as Straight to Hell; the weatherbeaten twang of Hank's voice is the perfect instrument for his updated honky tonk howl, and his band (especially Andy Gibson on steel guitar and Dobro and Johnny Hiland on lead guitar) cooks with gas, sounding tighter than ever and roaring with enthusiasm at a speed that would send most country acts off the rails. But lyrically, too much of the time all Hank has to tell us is he's messed up and ready to rearrange some faces, and while these are inarguably classic themes in both country and metal, he hasn't found enough ways to rework the formula to make the same message compelling for 50 minutes. It's worth noting two of the album's best tunes are ones that find something else to focus on -- "The Grand Ole Opry (Ain't So Grand)" takes Nashville's most venerable institution to task (with good cause) for disrespecting Hank's granddaddy and whitewashing country's history, while "I Wish I Knew" is a broken-hearted lament that's a first-class beer-drinking weeper. But when Hank takes on the voice of a rape victim, throws a cookie monster howl over the tale of a jacked-up trucker, or pays apparently sincere homage to G.G. Allin (who wasn't an outlaw so much as a psychopath -- just ask the woman he set on fire), he overplays his hardcore hand and sounds like he's writing for a third-rate black metal band, and Hank has made it clear he's capable of better things. Before Hank III makes his next album, maybe he should ask himself a question Waylon Jennings posed many years ago -- "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got out of Hand?"

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