Hank Williams III Goes For 'Broke'
Owning perhaps the most-revered pedigree in country music, Hank Williams III also possesses a fiercely independent streak that manifests itself well on his second Curb release, "Lovesick, Broke &Owning perhaps the most-revered pedigree in country music, Hank Williams III also possesses a fiercely independent streak that manifests itself well on his second Curb release, "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'," due Jan. 29. Though modestly successful, Williams' debut album, "Risin' Outlaw" (which has sold 132,800 units in the U.S., according to SoundScan), wasn't, in his opinion, a successful project. He is much more satisfied with the new one.
"First of all, I was able to have my own hands on it and do what I wanted to do instead of what somebody else wanted me to do," Williams says. "Curb didn't stick their nose in one time. I used all my own material, and I got to use my friends playing on it. Basically, I didn't have to use some producer with his ideas about how it should sound."
Produced by Williams and longtime friend Joe Funderburk, "Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'" is spare and authentic in its presentation; hardcore, unflinching, and often dark in its themes. At times eerily reminiscent of his legendary grandfather vocally, lyrically Williams explores such themes as loneliness, detachment, and excess -- familiar topics in the Williams family songbook -- on such songs as "Whiskey, Weed and Women," "5 Shots of Whiskey," and the title cut. Indeed, imbibing substances other than iced tea is a recurring theme on the record.
"That's just the way it kinda worked out," an unapologetic, soft-spoken Williams says. "My intention was to not write one song for radio but to write them all for myself, and however it turns out is how it turns out. Drinkin', smokin', livin' on the road, heartbreak -- those are the topics I was living at that time. That's what's real to me."
"Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'" is populated by mostly acoustic, downtempo country blues, featuring skillful instrumentation and heartfelt, honest vocals from Williams. The words are often telling, whether on "Cecil Brown," when Williams moans "on the low road is where I feel I belong/'Cause it don't matter who is right or wrong" or when he finds himself "drinkin' with the drunks who don't wanna go home" on the mournful title cut.
Often, the lyrics are disarmingly simple and straightforward, as with "livin' lonely is the life that I've been livin'" on "Whiskey, Weed and Women" and "I like to get pure drunk in the Mississippi mud" on the exuberant "Mississippi Mud." The latter cut is a rousing uptempo number, as are the manic "Nighttime Rambling Man" and the syncopated rush of "Lovin' and Huggin'." But elsewhere, "5 Shots of Whiskey" is a slow waltz, as Williams observes, "I wasn't in no happy-go-lucky mood when I wrote that song."
Williams asserts that at the least, the new record reflects his vision of what it should be, without undue influence from the label. "I told 'em [with "Risin' Outlaw"], 'Every interview I do, I'm gonna knock the album and tell people not to buy it.' I'm not going to media school. I think [Curb] realized if they don't let me do it my way, there would be a little war."
Despite Williams' bashing of the "Risin' Outlaw" record, the single "I Don't Know" made some noise at a few mainstream country radio stations. " The kid is magical, and he is gonna happen," says Kevin O'Neal, formerly PD at WSOC Charlotte and now PD at WSM-FM Nashville. "It's just a matter of when, because there is a ton of talent there."
Williams helps his own cause by touring hard, notching 200 dates in 2000 and about 180 in 2001. The artist not only plays country but also hardcore rock, and when he's booked into rock venues, he can tilt his set either way. "We've been putting him in some rock rooms, because Shelton has that side of him," says manager Burt Stein of Gold Mountain Entertainment, referring to Williams by his first name-as most of Williams' associates do. "But if he is in a stone country room, or a fair or festival with a family crowd expecting country music, he is smart, recognizes his audience, and respects his audience. If we put him in a rock room, it definitely requires a parental sticker."
Williams says he has a rock record in the can that is -- musically, at least -- diametrically opposed to his country offerings. "My rock is more the angry, aggressive, speed kinda stuff," Williams explains. "No other Hank Williams has ever screamed like I have. I guess that's my way of officially being me."