|Hank3 performing live (photo by Cindy Knoener)|
Release date: September 6, 2011 (Hank3 Records/Megaforce Records)
What prompts an artist to release four albums' worth of material on the same day? Workaholism? Devotion? Ambition? Greed? Batshit lunacy?
Whatever the motivation, Shelton Hank Williams -- aka Hank Williams III, aka Hank3 -- apparently has a lot to get off his chest after a tumultuous 15-year stint with Curb Records. In a press release preceding this multi-album, multi-genre release, Hank3 explains his motivation thusly:
"I wanted to flood the market and do everything different. I wanted to come out of the gate strong. I'm opening up the mind a little bit and bringing some different styles together."
An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Hank3 wrote and performed all the music on ADD himself. The album starts strong, with the psych-doom leanings of "In the Camouflage" and the Sabbathy groove of "I Feel Sacrificed," but the album eventual starts to sound repetitive, even by doom metal standards. Hank3's distorted, nasal vocals are also hit or miss in this context. Sometimes it works, other times, you find yourself pining for Buzz Osbourne's throaty shouts or Mike Williams' agonized screams. Ultimately, ADD seems like a no-win proposition for Hank3. It's unlikely to make any new doom metal fans out of his country followers, and doom purists will probably consider it a pedestrian effort at best.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, "pedestrian" is hardly a word that could be used to describe Cattle Callin -- surely one of the strangest music projects to be released this year. On Cattle Callin, Hank3 takes recordings of cattle auctioneers and sets them to a thrash metal backdrop. It's a clever premise, and the rapid-fire delivery of the auctioneers actually meshes quite well with the hyperspeed riffs and double-bass blastbeats. Song titles like "Heavy Cattle" and "Angus of Death" add to the tongue-in-cheek fun, but eventually, over the course of 23 songs and 75 minutes, the gimmick wears a little thin. The monotony is briefly broken up on "Cattle Callin Lonesome Blues," which kicks off with Daniel Mason's incredible banjo picking before segueing into a chaotic metal meltdown. On many of the songs, Hank3 adds his own distorted, screaming vocals, which raises the question: Why bother with the auctioneer samples in the first place if they're going to be buried in the mix?
Cattle Callin might have worked better as a straightforward thrash/speed metal album. If the auctioneer samples had been thrown in on just a handful of songs, it might've seemed more creative and unique. As it stands, it comes off as one of those ideas that seems brilliant after a few bong rips, but probably should've been relegated to a couple bonus tracks or an EP once everyone sobered up.
Rounding out this quartet of Hank3 releases is the double album Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown. While ADD and Cattle Callin might serve as hit-or-miss testaments to Hank3's diverse musical interests, this release proves that Hank3 is still at his best when he's playing the traditional outlaw country music that made his father a rich man and his grandfather an icon.
The first disc, Ghost to a Ghost, mostly sticks to the tried-and-true formula that Hank3 has perfected over the past decade and a half. Tracks like "Guttertown," "Day by Day" and "Outlaw Convention" are standard classic country fare, while "Don't Ya Wanna" is the requisite party anthem. Local country fans should enjoy hearing Phoenix-based singer/songwriter Ray Lawrence Jr. take over lead vocal duties on the aptly titled "Ray Lawrence Jr.," which features Hank3 singing backup on two of Lawrence's original songs -- "When You Lose All You Had" and "Back in the Day." Other guests include Les Claypool of Primus and Hellstomper's Alan King. The inimitable Tom Waits even drops in to do his best Lemmy Kilmister impression on the title track.
That's not to say that there's no experimentation going on on this double album. Hank3's dog, Trooper, adds his unique vocal stylings to the foot-stomping "Trooper's Hollar" and the dark, moody "Trooper's Chaos" from the second disc, Guttertown. Indeed, much of the second disc veers away from traditional country sounds in favor of what might be described as avant-garde neo-folk. The disc features eerie, atmospheric sound collages interspersed with accordion-laced, backwoods, hillbilly sing-alongs. Waits makes another appearance on the Celtic-tinged "Fadin Moon," while the album-closing "With the Ship" sounds like a pirate song performed by Munchkins.
Overall, Hank3's quadruple-album experiment may not be the windfall of amazing music that diehard fans had hoped for, but it's hard to fault him for the effort. ADD might not be remembered as a seminal doom metal release, and Cattle Callin rarely rises above the level of gimmickry, but Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown proves that Hank3 still has a great deal to offer in the realm of country music. And frankly, right now, country music needs Hank3 a lot more than doom metal does.