Hank Williams III, ‘Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown’ – Album Review
Like sushi and moonshine, Hank Williams III is somewhat of an acquired taste. His reckless approach to country music will turn off all but a slim minority of mainstream country music fans, but appealing to that bunch has never been a goal for the son of Hank Williams Jr. Rebellion is in his blood.
‘Ghost to a Ghost’ and ‘Guttertown’ are two sides to one of three albums the 38-year-old is releasing this week on his new Hank3 record label. For years he was signed to — or as he’d more likely put it, trapped by — Curb Records. He’s complained openly about how they stifled his creativity. The new albums are less angry than his previous two, and he takes chances that land far outside the realm of what even the most progressive fan would call country music.
‘Ghost to a Ghost’ opens with a song called ‘Guttertown.’ It’s one of a handful of pure country songs on the project, sort of modernized versions of songs his grandfather would record. “Raw” is a word that overstates his sound. At his best, his wiry frame is nothing but exposed nerves, the same color as those that ran through grandfather Hank Williams. Six or seven songs on this first album find that level of honesty, including ‘Day by Day’ and the over seven-minute long ‘Ray Lawrence Jr.’ (Brevity is not a strong suit of the singer’s on this album). Then he begins to experiment.
‘Troopers Hollar’ is one of two that feature Williams’ dog Trooper. It’s an odd sort of canine-infused dance track that makes use of the mocking laughter of a department store puppet. There’s something endearing about a hard-case like Williams making use of his aging hound, however, and he pulls this detour off before returning to his pure country roots with ‘Outlaws Convention.’
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s eight or nine songs that will satisfy a country fan of proper temperament (read: anger prone men). Stop there, though, because the final 20 songs (including 18 on ‘Guttertown’) aren’t going to improve your experience. One title requires more ?*!% and # than a website like Taste of Country can legally carry, and the final track on ‘Ghost to a Ghost’ is decent, until Williams employs one of his death metal buddies to help him out with the chorus.
Hank Williams III fans know he often attaches a second album of studio experiments to a musical first album, just because he can. There’s nothing on ‘Guttertown’ that a country dog would mistake as good-old-boy music. Almost half the songs are ambient spooks and creaks that if played together will make a wonderful soundtrack for one’s front porch scene this Halloween. Then there are a few songs in French, and a few that fall somewhere between Klezmer and Cajun. Think of this album as a bonus album you get for buying ‘Ghost to a Ghost’; our rating below is for the ‘Ghost to a Ghost’ side alone.