Album reviews: Hank Williams III and Waylon Jennings & the 357's
It's a tough gig being the offspring of a musical rebel. If you try to rebel yourself, you might be accused of aping your famous forebear, and if you don't, you run the risk of being labeled a sellout. Or simply irrelevant.
Hank Williams III and Shooter Jennings wrestle with the legacies of their celebrated ancestors in new albums, Williams doing it with the attitude in his music and lyrics, Jennings by completing a collaboration he started with his father a dozen years ago.
Hank III has the tougher job because of the dual shadows looming over him. In 2006’s “Straight to Hell,” he loosened up the straightjacket of traditional country that had restrained him on his first few albums. Live, it was clear Williams had as much respect for Black Flag as the Man in Black, but little of the punk rocker came out on record.
We’ve long known Hank III got his daddy’s gene for self-congratulatory rebelliousness; now, there are more signs he also got some of his granddaddy’s talent for mapping complex emotions with a few economical strokes of the pen. In “Damn Right Rebel Proud” he careens from the stone country remorse of “I Wish I Knew” to the psychobilly ode to the truck-driving man of “H8 Line” to the 10-minute, three-movement nose-thumbing epic “P.F.F.” offered in tribute to G.G. Allin.
As for Jennings, it’s still remarkably good to hear Waylon’s extraordinary voice, even if the majority of these eight songs, among the last things he recorded before his death six years ago at age 64, revisit signature tunes from his ’70s heyday.
The album teams him with Shooter’s band, the 357’s. Shooter and album co-producer Dave Cobb add more rock drive and sonic punch to “Are You Ready for the Country?” and Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This.” There’s an intriguing rendition of Cream’s “White Room,” but the real gem is “Outlaw [Expletive],” a darker-hued update of his self-reflective 1978 song “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand.”
Shooter’s still working on distinguishing his own music from the high-water mark his father established. But bringing Waylon’s voice back into the spotlight one more time surely earns him some points in Outlaw Heaven.
Hank Williams III
"Damn Right Rebel Proud" (Sidewalk)
Waylon Jennings & the 357's
"Waylon Forever" (Vagrant)