Hank Williams III

Rebel Within

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Unlike most post-millennium country "outlaws," Hank Williams III has actually been fighting against something concrete instead of just nursing a bad attitude. Hank III likes his music as strong as his drink, and he's been battling Curb Records (who first signed him in 1996) for the right to do his music his own way for years, which includes both his hard-edged trad-styled country and his "hellbilly" thrash metal project Assjack, and on Straight to Hell and Damn Right, Rebel Proud, he seemed determined to get some of Assjack's attitude into his country albums since Curb refused to release his hardcore rock music. 2010's Rebel Within finds Hank III in a more comfortable place than he's been for a while; Curb belatedly issued Assjack's album in 2009, and with Rebel Within, he's finally fulfilled his deal with the label (which he celebrates in an enthusiastic and foul-mouthed coda to "Tore Up and Loud"). There's an undercurrent of metal/punk noise creeping through a few tracks on Rebel Within (the bursts of Cookie Monster vocals on the title cut and the breakneck finale of "Drinkin' Over Momma"), but for the most part, this is the most straightforward country music Hank III has released since 2002's Lovesick, Broke and Driftin'; Billy Contreras' fiddle, Andy Gibson's steel guitar, and Johnny Hiland's guitar give these songs a classic acoustic honky tonk feel while adding just enough electric elements to keep this from sounding like an exercise in retro-nostalgia. More than one writer has noted that Hank III sounds a lot more like his grandfather Hank Williams than his dad Hank Williams, Jr. ever did, and he writes the kind of melodies that suit his weathered, soulful twang just right; Rebel Within captures a tone of bad luck and trouble with a grace and gravity that's manna from heaven for fans of 100-proof roadhouse music. However, while Hank III knows booze and heartbreak are country's two greatest themes, he seems to have leaned a bit too far into the "gettin' loaded" part of the equation; there's more booze, pot, heroin, cocaine, and other consciousness-altering substances on Rebel Within than you'll see in an entire season of Intervention, and by the end of the album, you'll probably wish someone would send Hank III and his cast of characters into court-ordered rehab. Rebel Within needs a few more thematic change-ups, but past that, this is strong, heartfelt work that proves Hank III hasn't turned his back on pure country music; no one could ever accuse Williams of not understanding his roots, and anyone who feared he sold his soul to rock & roll with Assjack gets sent to school with this record.

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