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Originally published at http://suite101.com
Perhaps better known as Hank Williams III, Hank 3 has been an incredibly busy but free man this year. He’s always been a musician who often crossed the line and played by his own rules, with little regard for what’s “cool” in country. But his finished contract with Curb Records and the formation of his own label have given him a great deal of creative freedom and the opportunity to pursue even more projects than usual. This release is the artist’s second double album, the first being 2006’s Straight To Hell, and it is one of three albums that he put out on September 6, 2011. While this album does have a lot of experimental moments, it is safe to say that this is probably the most “normal” release in comparison to the punk and metal sounds that immersed the other two.
The way that the two discs on this album work together is similar to the dynamic of Straight To Hell. Ghost To A Ghost has the real meat of the release while Gutter Town showcases experimental soundscapes and much more inaccessible structures. Thus, the first disc ends up being the album’s more enjoyable, accessible half, thanks to the more immediate songwriting. As expected, a bulk of the first disc’s songs have a more traditional country sound that is sure to remind listeners, such as myself, that not all country consists of the schlock that is constantly played on the radio. The opening “Gutter Town” is a probably the album’s best song, thanks to the fiddles and banjos that work well with Hank’s smooth vocal lines, and “The Devil’s Movin’ In” works as a traditionally depressing ballad.
But as someone from a decidedly more metal background, it is also great to see some of those heavier influences pop up from time to time. “Ridin’ The Wave” feels like it could’ve been an all-out metal track, thanks to the energetic drums and frantic feel, while songs like “Trooper’s Hollar” and the title track end up being favorites, as they show off a nicely placed guitar crunch and double- bass drumming. Though one song that really seems to stand out on this disc is “Time To Die,” a track that effectively reminds one of “When The Sun Rose Again” by Alice in Chains. Its more mellow sound and acoustic flourishes probably kept it off the doom metal album that he put out this year, but the vocal effects and morose tone give it a very similar feel.
Also noteworthy for some of the musicians who contribute alongside Hank’s nasally vocals and solid backing band. “Ray Lawrence Jr.” features the artist of the same name and sees the pair harmonize through two different songs with little awkwardness in the transition. In addition, Alan King comes in for the appropriately filthy “C*nt of a Bitch” and Tom Waits pops up on the title track providing some great contrasts with his ever gravelly rasp.
But as Ghost To A Ghost ends and is switched out for the second disc, the abrupt change of tone is quick to tell listeners that they aren’t exactly in Tennessee anymore. Instead, Gutter Town is a conceptual collection of tracks that aims for a much more Louisiana feel and manages to be quite authentic in its approach. In contrast to the first disc’s song-oriented approach, this disc deals much more with atmosphere and ambiance. Several tracks such as the opening “Goin’ to Gutter Town,” “The Dirt Road” and “The Low Line” are more about showing off swamp effects and unsettling spoken and sung vocals than they are about giving the listener memorable hooks.
Of course, there are still some traditional songs that are spread out on this disc. Songs like the upbeat “Gutterstomp” and “I’ll Be Gone” could’ve been incredibly obnoxious tracks due to its happy feel and infectious vocal lines. But it is an instantly memorable highlight, thanks to those same elements. In addition, the Eddie Pleasant-penned “I Promised” and “Move Them Songs” are brief but pleasant little ditties.
But with everything that changes, the musicians still manage to sound pretty solid. Hank’s vocal performance is noteworthy, as he goes from manic to somber, and from English to French, when the situation calls for it. The guest appearances are also still welcome on this disc, though not as prominent. There is some memorable harmonizing by Pleasant on “Move Them Songs," and Waits comes back again for “Fadin’ Moon,” while Primus bassist/singer Les Claypool comes in for the closing sea shanty “With The Ship.”
But while the first disc seems to have something for just about every kind of listener, there is no denying that some will not have the patience for Gutter Town. It is a very strange collection that definitely requires a good series of listens to get a feel for, and it can be an exhausting listen with the 19 tracks that it has to offer. But if anything, it would probably provide some interesting background music for your next Halloween party, if you’d care to go for a creepy Cajun them. ...
But this is an excellent collection overall. Most double albums show a loss of musical direction or an excessive amount of filler, but this release uses the format well, as it allows the two discs that work with one another while still remaining separate entities. This album is not only recommended to country fans who love to hear the old spirit played with a more unique touch, but also recommend ed to those who think that all country music is generic and interchangeable. And if it makes you feel any better, this may be one of the only double albums out there that can be purchased for less than than $12.
Current Highlights (Disc 1): “Gutter Town,” “The Devil’s Movin’ In,” “Time To Die,” “Trooper’s Hollar” and “Ghost To A Ghost”
Current Highlights (Disc 2): “Gutterstomp,” “Dyin’ Day,” “Move Them Songs,” “I’ll Be Gone” and “With the Ship”
If you're not already familiar with Hank Williams III, you should be. The grandson of the legendary Hank Williams and son of the equally legendary Hank Williams Jr., he embodies the outlaw mentality of underground country music. Most of us forget (or don't know) that there is such a thing as underground country, since what's passed off as country these days is just bad pop music with a twang. As Celtic Frost was to Poison in the mid-80's, so Hank 3 is to mainstream country. On top of that, he's been involved in projects with Phil Anselmo, and his shows are legendary for starting out country, turning punk, and ending metal.
Just released from a bad label deal (sound familiar?), Hank simultaneously released four albums: the weird speed metal / auctioneering experiment 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin, the stoner doom Attention Deficit Domination, and the double country album Ghost to a Ghost / Gutter Town.
I don't know much about country, but I like Ghost to a Ghost. There's a measure of metal in the formula, on evidence in "Riding the Wave" and the title track (which also has some tango). But mostly, it's old-school country with raunchy lyrics about sex and drugs, with a bit of silliness thrown in (Hank's dog Trooper provides vocals on one track). There's a little bit of "my wife left me, my dog is dead" kind of country ("Ray Lawrence Jr."), some dark Americana ("Time to Die"), and something that sounds kind of like Jerry Cantrell ("The Devil's Movin' In"). The songs are catchy and memorable, and there's enough metal to hook you in.
Sadly, Gutter Town should have been left in the gutter. It has disposable cuts (with a lot of accordion) that would make better B-sides and rarities, which is OK, but about half of it is useless ambient garbage. The last track features Les Claypool, and sounds like it should have been a hidden track on a Primus record. And that's one of the most interesting things on the 77 minute disc.
The Verdict: Ghost to a Ghost is a good time. I give it 70 percent. Gutter Town is almost useless. I give it 20 percent.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/