By: Gillian McClellan
If one were to scroll through my Twitter page, they might be disappointed to find there isn’t much substance. Half of it is a testament to my hopelessly-single-girl obsession with my future wedding, while the other half consists of my feeble attempts at being clever. Regardless, one of my most compelling gems of insight simply reads: “I stood on a bar and sang Hank Williams, Jr. tonight.” [Side note: if you happened to be at Lonnie’s on the evening in question, I sincerely apologize and I’d be happy to cover any medical expenses related to hearing loss or emotional trauma you may have suffered as a result of my performance.]
Unfortunately, my fleeting career as a karaoke maven came to a screeching halt about thirty seconds into the song when it registered that Music City, USA may not be the ideal place to showcase the world’s worst singing voice. Karaoke is not karaoke in Nashville: it’s open auditions for any big-wigs that may wander into the audience. Lesson learned. I may have hung up my microphone and stepped out of the spotlight, but the quickest way to get this songbird crooning again is to turn on “Family Tradition” and let me shine. There’s just something about Hank Williams, Jr. that gives you that secondhand-cool kind of confidence. Those of you looking for a real thrill, turn on ”A Country Boy Can Survive” anywhere within a five mile radius of me, I dare you. The good Lord has blessed me with a sixth sense for detecting Bocephus. This compelling excerpt from my life story coincidentally brings me to Junior’s latest compilation, Old School, New Rules.
Williams has never been one to hold back, and he certainly doesn’t change his ways this time around. Not a word is minced or feeling spared as he slides through the twelve tracks, slamming all those who’ve done him wrong with biting lyrics, brutal honesty and a casual disregard for political incorrectness. While the album plays like a theoretical soapbox, sure to be the source of much political debate and controversy, I found it immensely entertaining.
The album begins with “Taking Back the Country.” Junior belts out his strong opinions on the state of the union alongside vocal excerpts from Hank Williams, Sr.’s “Mind Your Own Business,” “well it used to be easy, get a place, build a house/ now the EPA says ‘no! that’s the home of the blue mouse!‘…mind your own business/ Dad got it right.” The call-outs only aim higher as the song progresses, “Hey Barack, pack your bags, head to Chicago/ take your teleprompter with you so you know where to go.” Because Williams has always chosen to blaze a path of his own in an industry his father so fiercely dominated sixty years ago, blending his own style and modernity with an “old-school” hit of his father’s is superbly fitting, especially for this album. The hard-hitting brand of social commentary continues with “We Don’t Apologize for America,” a slower tune with enough banjo and old-school piano riffs to keep this writer nothing short of giddy, “please do us a favor all you America haters/ why don’t you move to Mexico tonight/ we don’t apologize for America.”
If political jabs don’t butter your biscuit, fear not – there’s plenty of drinkin’ songs to keep your glass of whiskey half-full. Williams teams up with Brad Paisley for “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams,” and the two distinctively different voices play off one another exceptionally well to form a very unique collaboration.
His already popular single, “That Ain’t Good,” is the most lyrically tame track out of the twelve, reminiscent of Hank’s classics. An upbeat compilation of working-man-blues stories, the single is a welcome shift from the parade of political pessimism the album happens into at times: “My wife went to a lawyer / I never dreamed she would / Now my address is rock bottom / And they know me in this neighborhood / That ain’t good.”
I could go on for days, quoting all the clever lines that Williams has tucked in amongst the same country-rock-bluegrass blend that has come to make this artist famous in his own right, despite his incredible legend of a father. Alas, I can only leave you with this last nugget of wisdom to hold you over until July 10th: “Never kick a cow turd on a hot day / or you might get some poo on your pants leg…”