Hank Williams's grandson has a problem with Nashville. His two-disc Straight to Hell swipes at "pop country," guys who "write those hit songs down at PolyGram," and women who need "more dick down on Music Row." And that's not even counting Hank III's dismissal of Kid Rock: "He's a Yank, he ain't no son of Hank/And if you thought so, goddamn, you're fucking dumb." Hank III is hardly the first country performer to rail against the strictures of Music Row; Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Alan Jackson have famously expressed their dissatisfaction with Nashville's assembly-line mentality, and Hank Williams himself had a little trouble with the Grand Ole Opry during his brief career. But whereas a song like Cash's "Chicken in Black" was a savage indictment of Music City disguised as a novelty tune, Straight to Hell purports to be an avant-garde updating of outlaw country, and succeeds neither as an experiment nor as a return to basics. As music, the first disc of Straight to Hell has its moments. "Low Down" works as a slice of basic Southern rock in the manner of the Marshall Tucker Band. Williams achieves a thin, weird, and speedy sound on songs like "Country Heroes" and "Pills I Took," and the guitar work is impressive throughout. But his singing is mannered, and lyrics like "I don't wanna be country/With some faggot looking over at me" are simplistic and embarrassing, as are the constant references to drugs, alcohol, and Williams's outlaw status. Disc two is even more problematic. Imagine We're Only in It for the Money-era Frank Zappa gone hillbilly-musique-concrète, with tales of murder standing in for countercultural commentary lo-fi country tunes interspersed with train sounds and chopped-and-screwed radio broadcasts. It's interesting to hear once, and proves that even outlaws need boundaries.
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