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Hank Williams III

Hillbilly Joker – 2011 (Curb)

Reviewed by Karlie Justus

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CDs by Hank Williams III

Call it hellbilly, deathneck or thrashgrass - any way you spin it, but don't think ol' Hank done it this way. His grandson Hank III, however, has developed a fervent following of fans that appreciate those niche genres' unlikely blends of country, shock rock and metal. And while it's certainly not the same old tune, his last six major label releases (and a spattering of bootleg compilations) have added new layers to the Williams family's musical legacy.

Unfortunately, the latest - and last - album released as part of Hank III's contract with Curb Records isn't nearly as interesting as the drawn-out artistic and legal battles the singer has endured since signing in the mid-nineties.

On "Hillbilly Joker," the metal flavoring of his hardcore band Assjack take center stage amidst gun shots, burping, a braying donkey and speedy lyrics screamed over electric guitars. If the Beastie Boys went the country route of other aging pop and rock stars such as Darius Rucker and Staind front man Aaron Lewis, its first country album would probably sound a lot like this.

With only brief glimpses (see closing tracks Drink It, Drug It" and Hellbilly") of Hank III's shuffles-with-a-sneer sound from earlier albums "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin"' and "Damn Right Rebel Pride," "Hillbilly Joker" sounds defensive and anachronistic.

And perhaps for good reason - these songs were recorded at the turn of the millennium for a project originally titled "This Ain't Country." That album was reworked and released a decade later by Curb after Hank III left the label, prompting the outspoken artist to go so far as to post "Don't buy it, but get it some other way and burn the hell out of it and give it to everyone" to his Facebook page.

Come to think of it, Hank Sr. just might have done it that way after all.