Hank III – Hillbilly Joker
By Rev. Walter Beck
This is sort of like Chinese Democracy for Hank III fans; the hellbilly/cow punk album we were promised for years, but never materialized. And like Chinese Democracy, these songs have been floating around the bootlegging circles for years before seeing official release. This record was originally recorded about eight years ago with the title of This Ain’t Country, but Curb refused to release it, until now.
This album is true hardcore country, this ain’t your CMT, slicked up country music; this is distorted guitars, basement production and a punk rocker’s attitude. Kicking it off with “Hillbilly Joker” (known amongst bootleggers as “Go F*** You”), this record immediately latches onto the throat and doesn’t let go as Hank rips through number after number like “I’m Drunk Again”, “Life of Sin”, and “MFJ”. The most noticeable thing about this record is the mix of country music with a hardcore edge; “Life of Sin” could be a somewhat standard bluegrass romp, but when shoved through distortion pedals it creates a whole new sonic beast.
But it’s not just country getting the hardcore treatment, “Now He’s Dead” reeks of early psychedelic like the 13th Floor Elevators, mixed with early Goth rock such as Christian Death, creating a haunting and very disturbing ode to the victim of another drug overdose and violent excess.
“Drink It, Drug It” could be a modern anthem for hedonism, with its catchy hooks and upbeat rhythm, but like anything else on this album, it reflects Hank’s dark senses and it’s expressed here through heavily distorted vocals. This song probably won’t get any radio rotation for its unusual sonic edge and for the explicit celebration of intoxicants, but it should because it would make one hell of a single.
The record comes to an end with “Hellbilly”, one last sonic romp through Hell’s Grand Ole Opry, a mix of distortion, country rhythms and lyrics of devilment and debauchery. It leaves the listener on a very strong note.
So now that his hellbilly album has officially been released, is Hank III satisfied? Hell no; “Don’t buy it, but get it some other way and burn the hell out of it and give it to everyone.” But his label has delivered an excellent piece of underground country, it’s not as earthshattering as Hank III’s 2006 release Straight to Hell, an album that is still one of my all-time favorite country records, but it does offer a great alternative to the bloated overproduced country music that’s been polluting the American airwaves since Garth Brooks got big.