Review : HANK III – "Hillbilly Joker"

Hank IIIHillbilly Joker
Release: 2011May03 (US)
Label: Bruc Records/Sidewalk Entertainment
Rating: 3.5/5

Hank III is a man to watch, and a difficult dude to gauge. His legacy never dictated the music he made; while (neo-) traditional country is a major portion of his past, present, and likely future, III stays active in the dirty, thrashing hardcore of Arson Anthem, and the punk metal of his perpetual project, Assjack. His latest solo effort is more in line with the latter, contrasting with 2010’s Rebel Within. But wait, did I say “latest” there? This is actually mostly stuff from an album called This Ain’t Country that was given to Curb Records about a decade ago; now that Hank III has completed his grueling 14-year contract, they conveniently released the material as Hillbilly Joker.

If there’s anything that especially sets Hillbilly Joker apart, it’s the psychobilly slant that tilts tunes like “Drink It, Drug It” and the opening title track in different twisted directions. And still a fuck has not been given, which you will hear all about and then some, trust me. He riffs with a Southern snarl and drawl on lead single “I’m Drunk Again”, firing rounds through the chorus with surprising accuracy. “Life of Sin” really rides on the wild side, damn-near derailing with reckless abandon, but still finding time for a rowdy “Hey! Hey!” here and there.

I admittedly got lost in the middle—a little irritated with the unclear vocals, to be accurate. Hank has an awesome voice, but it usually gets disguised in distortion on much of his heavy output. Whether or not this has to do with confidence or preference, he should try toning down the effects. Also, the version of “Tennessee Driver” on Assjack feels more complete with the sick intro, but the production is better here.

“Now He’s Dead” brought me back to life after the midalbum slump, with a staccato spy riff punctuating the tale of overdose. And Hank III closes Hillbilly Joker with a pair of vicious rippers, though broadcast radio folk be warned—there’s cussin’ abound. He’s gotten good with the industrial injections, and sound samples are pretty cool for the most part. But III needs to know when to scale back:  take the braying donkey (or probably jackass) in “Hellbilly”—awesome in parts, but concluding with a minute of barnyard cacophony is just overkill.

As an overall experience, Hillbilly Joker keeps me smiling. But even if you enjoy it as much as I did, do as Hank III himself subtly suggests: “Don’t buy it, but get it some other way and burn the hell out of it and give it to everyone.” Always bite the hand that robs you.

FCC: 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Try: 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10

01. Hillbilly Joker
02. I’m Drunk Again
03. Life of Sin
04. 10 Feet Down
05. Pistol Packin
06. Tennessee Driver
07. M.F.J.
08. Now He’s Dead
09. Drink It, Drug It
10. Hellbilly

~MetalMattLongo

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