Legend has it that, upon hearing Hank Williams for the first time (while still a child), Hasil Adkins thought the country legend was playing all the instruments himself. It's precisely this miscalculation that convinced Adkins to try such a thing on his own. Since his debut in the 1950s, he has performed mostly as a one-man band, but unfortunately (as this album attests) the sheer novelty of the approach cannot always support the music -- not for any great length of time anyway. What the Hell Was I Thinking? begins fine enough with the losers-always-win sentiments of "Your Memories," and a great first line: "Your memories, they come to see me/'cause they love me/your memories." Adkins' backing (guitar almost in tune, drummer nodding off) has more in common with the bare-bones indie-rock of Beat Happening or the loosest recordings of early Palace than the tradition that produced him. Strumming fractured guitar chords while keeping the beat with some extra appendage on a kick drum/tambourine combo, the singer delivers a series of decimated blues, country, and rockabilly tunes. In a rare moment of lucidity, he steps out of his own crazed juke-joint and into the night to sing the pining "Beautiful Hills." Surprisingly touching, Adkins sounds like another man entirely: the song has the haunting intimacy of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. More often however, you are begged to question Adkins' sincerity; so willfully wild is his delivery. His contemporaries (primal country and rockabilly singers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Feathers), while undeniably electrified and nearly unhinged, were ultimately balanced with an equal amount of restraint. The resulting tension is what drove their music and gave it power. With Adkins, you can hear a conscious attempt to avoid constraint. The result is music at the edge of sanity: potent, but only in very small doses.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush