Hank Williams III, or Hank3 as he officially goes by now, is one of the biggest names in independent country music. He has recorded some huge albums like Straight To Hell and Broke, Lovesick, and Driftin' that turned a whole new generation on to traditional country sounds with a modern twist. Hank3 has now released Brothers of the 4x4, his first album in a few years. This album has a lot to take in, and a wide range of sounds, and isn't one to be digested in one sitting.
Lets start with the good. There is a lot of great things about this album. 16 songs, many of them over 5 minutes long, means you get a lot of bang for your buck. Its difficult to come up with quality material for that long of an album, but for the most part Hank3 does it. There are no throwaway songs or terrible tracks that don't belong. Obviously some songs are stronger than others, but overall this is a solid, complete album that dwarfs most other releases in 2013.
Secondly, every song is 100% straight-up country. Sure, Hank3's punk rock influences are present, but its more in the delivery of the music rather than the style. There is more fiddle, steel, and banjo in the first half of the album than is on most of the singles on country radio today. Songs like "Ain't Broken Down", "Gettin' Dim", and "Farthest Away" show off the lonesome and downtrodden side of Hank3, while "Toothpickin", "Brothers of the 4x4", and "Dreadful Drive" show off Hank3's hell raising side. The wild and ragged Hank3 songs are really his claim to fame, and Brothers of the 4x4 features more of the tried and true formula. The 8 minute opening track "Nearly Gone" is another traditional country song with great lyrics and tons and tons of instrument play. Hank3 even yodels a bit, which really brings the track together. It certainly doesn't feel 8 minutes long, because it stays fresh and interesting the entire time.
The fun songs on this album are my personal favorites. "Outdoor Plan" is a simple song about the outdoors, but Hank3 hums and twangs along with the fiddle solo. Some find it obnoxious. I find it hilarious. It makes me laugh every time I hear it. "Possum in A Tree" is so simple, yet great. Leroy Troy partners up with Hank3 on this track, playing banjo and offering some harmony. Have you ever seen a possum in a tree? I have. So has Hank3. So he wrote a song about it. Its genius in its simplicity. It isn't a brain bender, but its sincere., and it has some great banjo licks.
Unfortunately, there are a few problems that keep this album from its true potential as a classic album. First of all, while minor, Hank3 certainly doesn't pave any new ground with his subject matter. I mentioned that this album is in his same formula. Some laud that, others loathe it. I'm somewhere in the middle. Hank3 does draw from that outlaw life well over and over, but in his defense, I think he is far more sincere than the trend chasers of Nashville. He lives these songs. Unfortunately, no matter how honest it is, familiarity can get stale with some people. I still enjoyed this album, but I totally get the people who are tired of it. By the next Hank3 album, I may be tired of it as well.
The biggest and most glaring problem with this album is the production. Whether it is on purpose to create a throwback sound, or by default due to poor equipment, the whole album sounds distorted and fuzzy. It almost sounds like an unearthed record of his grandpa's, unrestored and released to the public. I like the warmth of the old records, but when played next to anything else from the past decade, this sounds like poor poor quality. If it is due to equipment, lets all get together and buy Hank3 some new stuff, because you know he won't go to any big Nashville studio. If it is on purpose, lets hope Hank3 deters from this direction on his next album. The sound is almost a deal breaker for me; it is that prominent. Fortunately, most of the songs are so good that the bad sound is not enough to keep me away. That speaks a lot to Hank3. A lesser artist might not be able to pull off keeping the listener engaged when they dislike the production so much.
All in all, Brothers of the 4x4 is a pretty good album. Not a bad track in the bunch, and tons of real, honest, in your face country music. Some may find it repetitive, some may find it muffled and cloudy, but it still doesn't take away from the songs. These are good songs, and that's the foundation that country music is built upon.
Standout Tracks: "Nearly Gone", "Gettin' Dim", "Ain't Broken Down", "Outdoor Plan", "Possum in A Tree", "Broken Boogie", Farthest Away"
"Ain't Broken Down"
"Possum in A Tree"