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After nearly 15 years shackled to Curb Records, who clearly had no idea what to do with him and fought his restless spirit at every turn, Hank Williams III is a free agent and eager to make up for lost time. Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town is one of three albums Hank3 released on the same day through his own label, and while the other two albums are devoted to Hank's hardcore rock & roll, the first half of this two-disc set is the most straightforward country set he's released since Straight to Hell in 2006. Of course, Hank3's idea of a straightforward country album isn't much like what anyone in Nashville has ever done; while these tunes may feature plenty of chicken-pickin' guitar, fiddle, banjo, and accordion, "Ridin' the Wave" roars down the road like Mötorhead, "Don't Ya Wanna" is a cheerfully rude celebration of sex and wild times, the creepy filtered vocals of "The Devil's Movin' In" are filled with menace, "Ghost to a Ghost" is punctuated by Cookie Monster-style death metal vocalizing, and Hank's dog Trooper even gets a turn on the vocal mike on "Trooper's Holler." Like Straight to Hell, Hank recorded Ghost to a Ghost at home on a portable digital recording rig, and he seems to be relishing the opportunity to do whatever he wants, mixing rock guitars and double-kick drumming with banjos and acoustic guitars, letting the mix sound murky and smoky rather than squeaky clean, and even letting Ray Lawrence, Jr. take the lead for a couple tunes. But Hank really runs free on the second disc, Gutter Town, which resembles the surreal "Louisiana Stripes" bonus disc that came with Straight to Hell. Punctuated by long passages of swampy sound effects, most of the songs on Gutter Town find Hank3 toying with Cajun music, and he sounds like he's having a grand time hooting and hollering in a mixture of English and French while the band winds up like they're the rowdiest guys in Baton Rouge. Gutter Town also includes a glorious, swaggering duet with Tom Waits on "Fadin' Moon" that's the set's most satisfying moment, and closes with an odd but successful a cappella experiment with Les Claypool of Primus, "With the Ship," which is a rare moment where Hank actually sounds playful. Hank3 recorded, mixed, and mastered Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town as well as writing nearly all the songs, and the best moments howl with freedom and creative liberation; however, he also seems determined not to throw anything away, and as a consequence, this set feels overstuffed, and some judicious editing (particularly of the spooky weirdness on Gutter Town) would have been a good idea. But Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town is easily the purest expression of Hank3's crazed country vision to date, and anyone who's followed his wild ride owes it to themselves to give it a listen.
|Label:||Hank 3 Records|