Country’s equivalent to rock revivalists like the Strokes, Hank III sings and writes honky-tonk the old-fashioned, crazed-redneck way, and vocally, he’s a ringer for his scrawny-voiced grandfather, Hank Williams. On the rude, crude, expletive-spewing Straight to Hell, his third album, he boasts of loving ”a little bitta smoke and a whole lotta wine” (”Smoke and Wine”) and of inhaling morphine (”Crazed Country Rebel”), one of the ingredients in Hank Sr.’s fatal 1953 cocktail; the self-explanatory ”Pills I Took” starts with a car crash and ends with a doctor being paged in a hospital.
Hank III can be as guilty of shtick as the ”pop country” acts he slags in ”Dick in Dixie,” a song that would have been edgier during the ’90s heyday of Garth and Faith. He’s at his best when he cuts back on the stoner-outlaw routine and instead toasts legendary Nashville screwups like George Jones in ”Country Heroes,” revives country-song wordplay in ”My Drinkin Problem,” or pulls off an ace Waylon homage in ”Low Down.” And it’s doubtful that even the most adventurous Nashville act would produce anything like the refreshingly experimental ”hidden track” on Straight to Hell’s second disc: a swirling, 42-minute collage of sound effects (railroad trains, babbling brooks, ornery preachers) and lo-fi ballads (including Granddad’s ”I Could Never Be Ashamed of You”). Whether it’s meant as a sonic dream or a nightmare, it’s strangely spellbinding.