Hank Williams III
Country music today is a crock, with clean living and a pop music slickness that is sure to keep all of the true outlaw greats spinning in their graves. However, there are a handful of artists who are fighting hard to keep the Southern twang and rebel attitude prevalent in their music, with the true spirit of country alive and well as the culture dies slowly with every feathered haircut and auto-tuned vocal track. No surprise due to his genetics, Shelton Hank Williams III is a true outlaw who lives by his own rules, ain't afraid of a good fight, and could drink us all under the table. His newest record, aptly titled Rebel Within, is a return to form for Williams, bringing back more of the Lovesick... and Straight to Hell sound to his music, with more of a vintage production quality that really gives some hoot and holler to his old-time, shit-kicking approach to the craft. III had something to prove with this one, as it is his last on Curb Records, an entity that he has constantly battled over his releases for many years. This fight has fueled his rebel fire with this one making it one of his best, if not his finest indeed.
To say that alcohol has a lot to do with Rebel Within would indeed be an understatement, as it is overflowing with whiskey soaked tales of booze, bootleggers, and debauchery. Opening things up with "Gettin' Drunk and Fallin' Down", one of his more traditional sounding songs, Hank and company keep things steady with this mid-tempo piece that explores the plain-old, good fun had in a night with too much to drink. Both "Rebel Within" and "Tore Up and Loud" bring more of the rowdy, hellbilly feel to the album, combining elements of both honky tonk and heavy metal with each. The title track embraces the act of giving into sin and explores the lighter side of drinking, drugging, nasty lovin', and all imaginable combinations of the three together. "Looking For a Mountain" features some strong Dobro runs from Andy Gibson and tells of the endless struggle in running from the law back into the mountain hollers to avoid getting busted by the authorities yet again. Barring any vivid details, I am almost certain that a great deal of us who have grown up in and around Appalachia, myself included, can identify at least partially with this one. More booze related anthems added to the roster include "Drinkin' Ain't Hard to Do" and "Drinkin' Over Momma", the latter being a slice of comic relief at the end of the album as it describes a distraught family as they mourn the loss of their rambling mother who started "drinkin' at the age of sixty-one." Williams also knows that any good country record has to have a few slow numbers, ones that can really embody the heartache and lonesome nature of the territory. With "Gone But Not Forgotten" and "#5", slow waltz feels accompany the stories of lost love and heroin addicts' lament respectively.
As a proud East Tennessean, I have to say that "Moonshiner's Life" is by far my favorite track overall. This track is raw and moving, with an almost bluegrass feel to it, complete with great fiddle melodies from none other than Billy Contreras, no stranger to the Knoxville music scene. This selection is a tale of the legendary Popcorn Sutton who is the most famous moonshiner in the history of bootlegging, making his living creating some of the strongest concoctions known to man.
Do yourself a favor and let your hair down, throw on your boots and up your horns with this one. Rebel Within is one of those albums that will make you want to drink even more when you have already had enough and is sure to keep you going strong when you are in one of your whiskey moods. Drink, dance, fight or....well you get the point. -Andrew Bryant