HANK WILLIAMS JR.'s new album, "Five-O" (his 50th album), contains some very good songs. Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" deserves its standard status; George Thorogood's "I Really Like Girls" is a likably raucous anthem; Gary "U.S." Bonds' "New Orleans" is an infectious party song; even Williams' own "Something to Believe In" is an effective portrait of recession gypsies.
Unfortunately, all this material is wasted on Williams, whose voice is one of the bluntest instruments in the industry. Seemingly incapable of any attitude but bragging or complaining, Williams approaches song interpretation as if it were alligator wrestling, quickly choking off any nuance or understatement.
This is not a new problem. His "Greatest Hits: Vol. II" is one long, unappealing advertisement for the "good ol' by" myth of hard- drinking hardheads. Williams brags about "all my rowdy friends" and warns everyone else to "leave them boys alone." When he sings his daddy's "Honky Tonkin'," he makes all too clear the difference between blue collar art and redneck bravado.
Williams' road musicians, the Bama Band, have put out their own self-titled album. They share their boss' lack of subtlety, and sound like any other bar band you might find in any of a thousand roadhouses across the South on any Saturday night.
HANK WILLIAMS JR. -- "Five-O" (Warner/Curb 25267- 1); "Greatest Hits, Vol. II" (Warner/Curb 25328-1).
THE BAMA BAND -- "The Bama Band" (Compleat 671013-1); both appearing Friday at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.