It’s tempting to get either enthused or offended, depending on your political perspective, by the politically outspoken nature of Hank Williams Jr.’s new Old School New Rules CD. If you’re, say, a Tea Party supporter, this recording will, indeed, be your cup of conservative tea. However, if you voted for Barack Obama last election, this music will amount to one bitter elixir.
No matter how it hits you intellectually, though, there’s no arguing that Hank sounds engaged. That powerful singing voice is in fine form. He’s also unhappy with our country’s direction, which is why this disc opens with one titled “Takin’ Back the Country,” a song that rips on President Obama. It also takes a shot at Facebook and Bing, blaming these internet sites for breaking up marriages. While it’s true that hooking up with old flames on Facebook can lead to divorce, why does he also bring Bing into the equation? Bing is a search engine, which – the last time I checked – is completely romantically neutral. It leaves Williams sounding ignorant (or tying it to MSNBC perhaps?). Then on “Keep the Change,” Williams picks a fight with Fox & Friends. Country songs really aren’t the best forums for such squabbles. Lastly, “Stock Market Blues,” which finds Williams commenting on Wall Street, clearly shows the country star to be out of his knowledge league.
Musically, Williams sounds fantastic, if you can stomach his political posturing. “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams” -- which also features Brad Paisley -- is good fun. Elsewhere, bringing back Merle Haggard to duet on The Hag’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is also a duet idea that works. Both “Old School” and the unwisely titled “The Cow Turd Blues” feature a winning thump-thump, Waylon Jennings vibe. “Three Day Trip,” a sexual escapade tune that is more than a little uncomfortable lyrically, rolls to a likeable tropical vibe, and its healthy horn section adds a nice touch.
The danger with Williams including a song like “Old School,” where he brags about his musical legacy, along with his many stubbornly conservative political lyrics, is that the artist sometimes comes off a little out of touch and reactionary. The whole concept of taking back a country amounts to fighting words. It’s this sort of political bickering that prevents congress from getting anything done. It would be far better for Williams to write and sing about what we all have in common, instead, rather than highlighting stark differences. Furthermore, Williams never states how the country’s going to be better once he and his fellow conservatives take over. It’s one thing to complain; it’s quite another thing to suggest workable solutions.
Yes, Williams sounds engaged throughout. Even so, it should be added that he also behaves like a grumpy old man, too. Everybody with half a brain hates emo music because nobody likes to hear people whine all the time. However, is complaining constantly to a country beat any better? Isn’t it the same thing, only in a distinctly different (if not better-sounding) package?
Williams dedicates his new album to “hard working Americans.” His dad’s music also appealed to hard working people, no matter how they voted. He spoke the common language of the common man. Sadly, his son’s new album Old School New Rules will likely only appeal to those with big, painful chips on their shoulders, and few others.