“I listened to his record, but I’m not exactly sure what he’s trying to say.” That’s a phrase you’ll never hear uttered about any of Hank Williams, Jr.’s music. Yep, love it or hate it, there’s not a need to do any reading between the lines for hidden meanings. And that’s never been more true than with Old School, New Rules, the latest release in Hank’s legendary career, on the street this week.
The 12-song collection is largely an unadulterated manifesto on what he loves about America, what he thinks is wrong with her, who caused it and what needs to be done about it. And, lest there be any doubt where Hank points the finger of blame for most of America’s current woes, it’s safe to say that Millard Fillmore, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the Bushes all manage to avoid Old School’s musical crosshairs, while our current President and administration are, rightly or wrongly, smack dab in the middle of them. [Note: For those preparing to call the FBI to have this writer investigated, I said MUSICAL crosshairs . . . MUSICAL. Just calm down. Breathe. Okay, let’s move on.]
From the opening rockin’ notes of “Takin’ Back the Country,” the cd’s first track, Hank sets the tone for what’s to follow, cleverly intertwining a musical cameo from his famous father’s classic “Mind Your Own Business” with Hank Jr.’s own take on environmental and other intrusions on freedom: Well it used to be easy, get a place, build a house/Now the EPA said, No! That’s the home of the bluemouth!
The musical broadsides against political correctness, whining and “America haters” continue with “We Don’t Apologize for America,” “The Cow Turd Blues” (featuring a brief appearance by Trace Adkins), “Stock Market Blues”—I think I’ve lost my assets today—and “Keep The Change,” a tune Hank first recorded years ago but rewrote following his much-publicized Hitler/Netanyahu reference on Fox and Friends in October of 2011.
The record’s first single, “That Ain’t Good,” picks up on the theme that things aren’t what they once were in America, but expands the lyrical content to include not only references to divorce, homicide terrorists and more, but an admission to going to church, asking for help and, finally, acknowledging the need to look for good in the world. A nice touch, indeed.
While it would be easy to conclude that Old School does no more than offer up Hank’s various takes on the state of the world, that would be a mistake. Because there’s a lot more to enjoy on this record, including a wonderful duet with Brad Paisley on “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams,” a true country gem showcasing both of them at the top of their respective games. Hank also nails it on his unique interpretation of his dad’s classic “You Win Again,” and the closing duet with Merle Haggard on Hag’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” is country music at its absolute best.
So, whether you agree with Hank’s politics or not, there is a lot to recommend his latest effort, not the least of which is the opportunity to hear a master of country music pouring out his heart singing about what he truly feels and believes. And, while it’s understood that a lot of younger artists, or those not as financially secure as they’d like to be, may not have the freedom to be as overtly political as Hank—after all, how many artists can afford to run the risk of potentially alienating half of his or her country audience?—it’s nice to hear someone tell it like he sees it, with no regard to where the chips may fall. Agree or disagree with what Hank says, his boldness in saying it is worthy of respect.—David Scarlett
1. Takin’ Back The Country
2. I’m Gonna Get Drunk And Play Hank Williams (with Brad Paisley)
3. Three Day Trip
4. Old School
5. We Don’t Apologize for America
6. You Win Again
7. Cow Turd Blues
8. Who’s Takin’ Care of Number One
9. That Ain’t Good
10. Keep The Change
11. Stock Market Blues
12. I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink (with Merle Haggard)