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The No Surf Review


The Lowdown:

Hank III

Based In:
Nashville, TN



Hillbilly Joker

Release Date:
May 17, 2011

Curb Records

Previous Releases:
Risin' Outlaw (1999), Lovesick, Broke and Driftin' (2002), Straight to Hell (2006), Damn Right, Rebel Proud (2008), Rebel Within (2010)

Country(?), heavy metal, punk metal, screeching and animal noises

Hank III, Hillbilly Joker album art

Rating: 2 out of 10



May 26, 2011


Hank III: Hillbilly Joker

by Alan "Pender" Pendergrass


Hank III may be the hillbilly joker, but if you buy this album the joke's definitely on you.

Hank III doesn’t want you to buy his new record. Most artists these days are paranoid about their work being traded (i.e. stolen) online, so it was pretty much unprecedented when Hank went on Facebook and asked his fans to “get it some other way… and give it to everyone.” But that’s just what he did, and he’s got his reasons.

Hillbilly Joker isn’t really a new record at all. In fact, it’s long been available to hardcore Hank III fans (aren’t they all?) as a bootleg. Comprised of material recorded in the previous decade, it gathered dust at Nashville’s Curb Records for years while they refused to release it.  Now, after a falling out and Hank III’s recent departure from the label, Curb resurrected the album as a final insult, knowing he won’t see a dime from its sales. This is reminiscent of the early 70’s spat between Bob Dylan and Columbia Records. When Dylan briefly left Columbia, they released Dylan, an album full of outtakes from his relatively unsuccessful Self Portrait sessions.

This isn’t even the only album Curb has held hostage. Decidedly out of this site’s wheelhouse though he is, Tim McGraw is involved in a similar dispute. The quarrel culminated recently in a pointless lawsuit by the label, which refuses to release his newest album (sound familiar?) because he apparently recorded the songs earlier than he was scheduled to, a technicality they allege constitutes breach of contract. The common thread? Both artists were planning to leave Curb at the end of their contract, and the label’s response has been one of petty, nonsensical litigation.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, who the hell is Hank III?

The Great Hank Williams and his grandson Hank III. It's possible one of these men is the other one's ghost, and not like in Steve Earle's novel.

Shelton Hank Williams has country music in his blood. He’s the grandson of the Great Hank Williams, and the son of the famous (though far from great) Hank Williams, Jr. Tattoos aside, he bears an eerie resemblance to his grandpa Cephus, both in appearance and voice. He’s developed a rabid cult following with his rambunctious and frequently profane take on traditional country music. And over the course of five albums, he’s managed to write more than a handful of really cool songs. Guess that trait skips a generation, as anyone who has suffered through Hank Jr.’s endless catalog of “Did you know I’m Hank’s son?” tracks can attest. We get it, Bocephus – your dad was awesome.

Hank III (a.k.a. Tricephus) is, if nothing else, his own man. Proud of his roots but happy to do his own thing, he makes music inspired by traditional Big Hank love/death/drinking themes, but with a lot more attitude. At their best, these are like “There’s a Tear in My Beer,” but with a handle of Jack, a pile of blow, a couple of hookers, and several loaded shotguns added to the mix. He’s not the most consistent artist, but when he’s on, he’s on.

Listening to his latest album is odd since it’s not actually new music but represents a much earlier period in his career. Curb Records’ pathetic business practices notwithstanding, this one probably should have stayed in the vault.

It’s just too… metal. It has its moments, mostly driven by Hank III’s cool vocals, but too often it devolves into screaming, white-trash angst. It should be noted that he’s actually third-generation old money (hell, Hank the Great owned half the Cadillacs in Alabama at one point), so the trailer park shredding is not exactly authentic.

The album starts out well enough. “Hillbilly Joker” is one of those loud-and-proud redneck anthems that, even with noisy, driving guitar work, stays just far enough on the right side of the metal line to still have some musical quality to it. It’s up-tempo and fun, if a bit more hard rock than most of his recordings.

“I’m Drunk Again,” however, moves straight into full-on metal territory, complete with screaming vocals over droning and repetitive guitar. For a metal fan, this song is probably completely unremarkable. For everyone else, it’ll give you a headache.

It’s all downhill from there. Each track seems to feature more screaming, devil sounds, and generic metal guitar than the last. If it wasn’t for the occasionally distinguishable lyric about getting drunk and shooting guns—or the giveaway hat on the cover—you wouldn’t even vaguely consider this a country record. Which, admittedly, was probably the intention.

Even when Hank III’s voice comes through (“Tennessee Driver,” “Now He’s Dead”), it’s followed almost immediately by those goddamn devil sounds, which kill the song before it really gets going. “Drink It, Drug It” is almost (but not quite) an exception. After the title track it’s the closest thing to a regular rock song, but still it doesn’t quite come together.

Hank III says don't buy Hillbilly Joker. Does this look like a guy you want to mess with?

“Hellbilly,” the album’s closer, would probably have made a more fitting title for the album as a whole. The song does have some amusing lyrics, which typify Hank III’s overall catalog: “Well, I’s raised on a farm and I drive my truck / And I milk them cows and I don’t give a fuck,” but musically it’s more of the same. The last two minutes of the song are nothing but a cacophony of squealing pigs and indecipherable, demented screeching. If the intention is to instigate a string of mass suicides, it’s just possible that it’s going to be a success.

If you’re a country fan and a metal fan (I know they’re out there somewhere), this album might be more your bag. The No Surf staff is woefully incapable of quantifying the merits of one metal album versus another, as we feel it all sucks. So metal heads, take this review with a grain of salt.

Regular ol’ country fans, if you like Hank III’s earlier studio albums this one is a pretty big departure and likely won’t resonate with you.  It might even cause projectile vomiting. If you’re reading about Hank III for the first time, don’t start with this album. His early records are all worth a listen and have a decidedly different (read: enjoyable) feel to them. Their best cuts are great traditional country, more in the vein of his grandfather, but with cursing. A lot of cursing.

In all fairness, this “new” album is really several years old. It represents material from early in Hank III’s attempt to splice country and hard rock together. Albums released after these recordings sound nothing like it, and it seems safe to say he’s decided to keep metal a side project (see Assjack, his punk-metal alter ego) rather than his mainstay.
The record is a weird anomaly, the product of a record label clusterfuck. For Hank III completists it’s probably an interesting look into a style his records could have taken, but thankfully didn’t. For everybody else, if you value your ears skip Hillbilly Joker and go buy Lovesick, Broke, and Driftin’ instead.

Here at No Surf, we can’t abide Curb’s ridiculous pissing contest. Apart from the fact that the record simply sucks, for this reason alone we cannot recommend buying it. In fact, for many reasons we strongly advise against it: Whatever you do, don’t buy Hillbilly Joker. Tricephus will kick your ass if you do. And we’ll have his back.


Don't buy Hillbilly Joker. It sucks and Hank III wants you to steal it anyway. Instead, try Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’ on Amazon!
mp3 cd


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