Rail-thin and gaunt, Shelton Hank Williams looks the spitting image of his haunted legendary granddad. Grandfather Hank tore the country music world apart before dying of drugs and drink in 1953, but Shelton like his own father Hank Jr. takes pains to cut the ties while honoring the family name. The young man who performs Saturday at Ally Katz as Hank Williams III mixes his music with brass and snarl that owes plenty to both bloodlines and to a healthy dose of wild-eyed personal pluck.
Hank III cut his teeth on his father's hits of the early '80s and on his grandfather's classics from the '50s. As a preteen he went on the road with dad and all of his rowdy friends and even played drums in the band. When his folks divorced, young Shelton and his mom pretty much went their way. But growing up in Nashville with music naturally in the blood, Hank III felt the songs stirring. Initially, like many teens, he first drew from rock 'n' roll; his first songs weren't fashioned after the lovesick blues of Hank or his dad's Southern rock hell-raisers but rather on the aggression of Kiss, the Dead Kennedys and Ted Nugent. Shelton banged around the South playing little joints in hard-core bands that had names like Bedwetter and Buzzkill, and abusing the same substances that paid dad and granddad off in good times and misery. It wasn't until a paternity suit caught up with him in his 20s that he made the decision to take a country direction. He figured he could make some money to pay the suit he was Hank III after all and get back to the punk thing later.
But along the way, he learned something about the music. He found out he was not only a natural with the hard country style, but that he could mix it up with rock any way he wanted. Some audiences might get a little confused the old folks who come to hear "Your Cheatin' Heart" aren't always thrilled but it worked fine for him. He also heard the traditional twang of Texan Wayne Hancock and understood that there was still a place on the American music scene for honest country music.
Williams has criticized his latest release "Risin' Outlaw" for not accurately capturing this dual nature of his musical soul. But if it doesn't crank with hillbilly rock, "Outlaw" more than shows off Hank's great way with simple, heartfelt country music. Backed by a stripped-down band that cooks with plenty of pedal steel, bass, drums and guitar, Hank drawls and yodels his way through 13 songs about loving girls, driving fast, getting drunk and being lonesome. He's got great chops that bend around a melody with a sinewy, direct kick that gets eerily close to granddad's mournful moan. Country radio won't touch it, but any fan of tough and true country music should pick up on "Outlaw." Saturday's show at Alley Katz should likewise be a great chance to hear the real
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