Friday, November 18, 2011

Ghost to a Ghost delivers cheap thrills, little substance

Hank III has finally cast off Curb's shackles.

The heir to one of country's music's greatest legacies has gained many a supporter by giving a stiff middle finger to the Music Row syndicate. Hank has always been about presenting himself as a tough guy, a rebel and redneck. If half the tales he tells of his drinking and drugging are true, he could veritably put most rock stars to shame.

Hank became very critical of Curb Records in the latter stages of his tenure with them. So now that he's on his own label, has Hank finally produced the magnum opus he's been promising?

Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown dual album assault certainly has been billed as such, but it's going to be tough to label this as Hank's masterwork. The country based Ghost to a Ghost is musically fine, and Hank is as bold and crude as he has ever been, but perhaps not quite as clever. A good chunk of the album sees Hank spewing the same tired material - that he's a broken down rebel just looking for a good time. This wouldn't be a big deal for many artists, but you don't listen to Hank for his music. You come to hear what he has to say.

The first two tracks - "Guttertown" and "Day by Day" are very similar to one another in thematic content and delivery. Both feature catchy, foot tapping beats but are a bit repetitive. "Ridin' the Wave" shows off a bit of his Assjack/heavy metal influence as it is a bit more hard nosed and aggressive than anything else on the album, while still mixing in a predominant country influence.

"Ghost to a Ghost" also features Hank's patented sense of wit and attitude, but more often than not it misses the mark here. The biggest offender is "Don't You Wanna," which sounds as if Hank wrote it in the bathroom of a greasy trucker's bar in 20 minutes. In broad daylight. The result? It's laughably juvenile and sophomoric, a stark contrast to previous efforts where he's often been slightly more tongue in cheek when it comes to his crudeness.

Ironically, the best songs on the album aren't even by Hank himself. Midway through the album, he sings a duet with Ray Lawrence Jr., preforming two of his songs. They provide an awesome dose of old school country. There are no shenanigans, just a display of raw emotion as the two reflect on love gone bad.

Also noteworthy is "Trooper's Chaos," a song about dog hunting. The main hook features a dog barking in rhythym to the music. I'm not sure that works so well, but I do dig the old timey sounding banjo in the background and I give Hank props for trying out a slightly unique concept.

"The Devil's Movin' In" showcases Hank at his dreariest and most mournful, while "Cunt of a Bitch" tells the bawdy tale of a scandalous women who seduces men then knocks them out and steals their wallets. It all concludes with the waltz like title track and album closer.

Ghost to a Ghost is vast improvement over Hank's lifeless 2010 effort, The Rebel Within, and is a lively, listenable disc with its fair share of catchy tunes. However, you won't see any of the political, pissed of Hank; this album is fairly repetitive in terms of subject matter and doesn't seem to deliver a great deal of thought or imagination. It's good enough if you're in the mood for mindless rebel outlaw tunes, but will be a let down for anyone who wanted to see Hank do something more than simply toe the party line.

Score: 77/100

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