The Almeria Club Recordings

Hank Williams, Jr.

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The Almeria Club Recordings Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The words self, parody, and Hank Williams, Jr. have been inextricably tied for such a long time -- nowhere more so than in his 1999 album, Stormy, where he seemed like he was auditioning for a sketch comedy, competing with Bob Odenkirk's send-up on Mr. Show -- that the spare, gritty, compelling 2002 release, The Almeria Club Recordings, comes as a bracing surprise. It's not that Williams Jr. has left all of his silly self-mythologizing behind, or that he's now developed a disdain for the ridiculous -- witness "Big Top Women," who "sure do bounce around," or how he's decided that he's "X-Treme Country," or how he mentions hanging with Kid Rock and Hank III on "The 'F' Word" -- but all that is part of his character, and it's much more acceptable now that he's reclaimed the other thing that's defined him -- namely, a talent for raw, hardcore honky tonk that's genuine, so genuine that it gives the rockers passion and the ballads a real melancholy streak. This, according to the man himself, may have been inspired by the location of the recording -- The Almeria Club, allegedly the site where a Hank Williams Sr. performance was interrupted by a gun-toting man looking for his cheating wife -- and if that's so, he should continue to record there, because he hasn't sounded this committed, this alive, in years. Even when the album gets silly, which it does frequently, it's buttressed by a crackerjack band at the top of their game and a set of really good songs. More than that, Williams Jr. clearly has some emotional stake in the songs, whether it's his salute to dead friends "Cross on the Highway," the post-September 11, 2001 "America Will Survive," "Last Pork Chop," the second of two tributes to Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas here, or "Tee Tot Song," dedicated to the man who taught Hank Williams Sr. how to play guitar. The end result is a stripped-down, fun, gutsy, and even moving album that offers a welcome musical reminder that Hank Williams, Jr. is indeed his father's son (something that he's never stopped reminding us verbally throughout the years).

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