Most country artists have a Hank Williams Sr. tune tucked somewhere in their repertoire, a live version that normally whips the crowd into a foot-stompin', raucous mob.
But an entire album of exclusively live Hank can be summarized in a single word: ambitious. And with different results, even in the hands of punk-country band Girls Guns & Glory. The Boston-area based quartet led by vocalist/guitarist Ward Hayden is carving out an impressive sound that at times ventures into manic Ramones-esque punk yet remains squarely in a new-traditionalist Dwight Yoakam vibe. And perhaps therein lies the dilemma with a full album of all-Hank covers. In trying to stay true to their sound, they occasionally miss the mark.
First, credit where credit is due: This kind of project, despite the simplicity of the music, is deceptively difficult. The band has performed an annual Hank Sr. tribute show the past several years. So, they know their way around his music. And while performing 12 Hank songs live would seem like a good-timey whirl 'round a honky tonk jukebox, it's one thing to pull off a couple of Hank covers live in front of a juiced-up crowd; recording an entire album? Nineties trad band BR549 might've been the lone act that could have truly pulled off this kind of project.
The musicianship shown by the band is nothing short of impressive. Fiddler Jason Anick of John Jorgensen's band, who lends a Jerry Rivers-like Drifting Cowboy Band feel to the music, is a great touch in a guest spot. But ultimately, whether the song works falls at Hayden's feet. And that's where it becomes a mixed bag. He does just fine on chestnuts like "Hey Good Lookin'", "I Saw the Light" and "Honky Tonk Blues." And the band really cuts loose with a rollicking take on "Move It On Over."
But several cuts lack the vocal style a polished country performer would add. Hayden races through "Moanin' the Blues" and falls flat on "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Dear John." Even "Jambalaya" has more of a rock band party feel than a Cajun-tinged homage to a Saturday night in the deep South.
A sincere but deceptively difficult project to pull off from song 1 to 12. A golf clap for the effort, but maybe it was best left to an annual event rather than recorded for all to hear.