As the scion of one of the true titans of 20th-century music, veteran singer-songwriter Hank Williams Jr. always carries a burden of expectation. Many Americans simply associate him with his song, “All My Rowdy Friends,” which was the frankly ludicrous lead-in to Monday Night Football for more than two decades. This perception belies the frequently sterling catalogue that Williams has consistently produced over the course of a five-decade career as one of country music’s better songwriters.
On his latest release “Old School, New Rules”, we find Bocephus (a nickname provided by his father) in a jingoistic fit of pique, owing in no small part to Monday Night Football’s decision in October to end their association after an interview in which the artist drew parallels between President Obama and Hitler. Whatever the considerable demerits of his argument, the episode seems to have energized Williams, and the new record sounds ferocious and fresh. Opening track “Taking Back the Country” is a barnstorming blues-rock number replete with borderline wonkish takes on the sundry evils of the EPA, social media and the current administration, abetted with actual Hank Williams Sr. vocals mixed in. The effect is at once appalling and persuasive — a winning bit of conservative agitprop, catchy and no less uninformed in its polemics than certain tracks by Fugazi or the Clash.
Later, Williams Jr. duets with Merle Haggard on his classic “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink.” It’s a great version and a companion piece to the record’s similarly boozy collaboration with noted progressive Brad Paisley, “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams.” While polarizing politics might serve as a leitmotif for this record, the ultimate takeaway seems to suggest that, for better or worse, we’re all in this together.
“I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams,” “Three Day Trip,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”