Straight To Hell
If this isn't 2006's best country album, it will most certainly be the year's most notorious. The first of Straight to Hell's two discs is a tour de force of hard, traditional country that honors Hank Williams III's bloodlines in all dimensions, especially when it comes to what his dad called "the family tradition" of self-dissolution. But III has never been shy about trumpeting his sporting pleasures in life, which he does, vocally, on the foreboding honky-tonk lament "Country Heroes," a tune that references George Jones, Merle, Waylon, and even his granddaddy, and captures the spirit in a telltale chorus ("I'm here gettin' wasted / just like my country heroes"). On this set of covers and original songs, Hank spices up his blend of rock and country instrumentation with ghostly tape loops here and there. Highlights include the rumbling "Pills I Took," the bluegrass-inflected, hard-country breakdown "Smoke & Wine" ("I'm drinkin', I'm druggin', I'm havin' lots of fun"), and "Dick in Dixie," a breakneck workout excoriating contemporary country music ("I'm here to put the dick back in Dixie / the c*nt back in country"). Disc 2 is something else again, beginning with a trim, thumping prison ballad in the Johnny Cash mold, "Louisiana Prison Stripes," before moving on to some incredible pared-down musical performances with sound collages. The musical interludes include a stunning eight-minute stretch of honky-tonk blues, evocative of Hank Sr.'s publishing demos, whereas the soundscapes feature, oh, nearly two minutes' worth of cattle stampeding and nearly three and a half minutes' worth of water running, children laughing, and wolves baying -- for starters. It's "Revolution #9" times five -- altogether unlike anything any other putative country artist has dared release. If you have to ask why, you know where to go.