Hank Williams Jr. – Old School, New Rules (2012)

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Sadly, the latest from Hank Jr. is pretty much everything that I hoped it wouldn’t be. There’s a lot of grousing about the government, a lot of trying to convince us he’s just a good ole boy like us, and at least three songs that reference his being fired from Monday Night Football over comments about the president. In the end, it all rings kind of hollow and brings down the songs on the record that are actually good.

I’ve never been a huge fan of politics in music from either side of the aisle. Just shut up and sing. It doesn’t help Hank’s case that at the moment I’m not a huge fan of politics in anything. I’m sick of the constant bickering, griping, whining and mean-spirited commentary and insults, and I think all of that is a big part of what got us where we are. Quite frankly, I think both sides are full of crap and couldn’t find their butts with both hands and a map. Oh, was that a political statement? Sorry. If Hank Jr. is allowed to do it on seven of the 12 songs on this album, I ought to be allowed one paragraph in the review.

What makes it frustrating on Old School, New Rules is the presence of one outstanding song, “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams.” The duet with Brad Paisley is, far and away, the shining star of this record. It’s got that classic Hank Jr. sound, and it’s easily the equal of some of his classic hits. There are no over-the-top moments, no posturing, no spouting: It’s just a really, really good song, and it doesn’t last long enough. This is exactly what I want from a Bocephus record, and he can still do it, but chooses not to.

The album’s Hank Sr. cover, “You Win Again,” is also a standout track, offering a musical nod to Junior’s friend Waylon Jennings. It’s a big, powerful number that makes you wish Jennings could still be around to do it with him. “Old School” proves that it’s possible for him to sing about himself – as he’s always loved to do – without it being annoying. It’s a name-dropper tune for sure, but not bad at all.

The expected humor pieces are OK for what they are. “Three Day Trip” has a Jimmy Buffett island feel and recounts an unfortunate weekend trip with a woman that likes to drink a little too much, while “Stock Market Blues,” not surprisingly, is about a bad investment that at least works out in a way.

Finally, the album wraps up on a strong note with a duet between Hank Jr. and Merle Haggard on The Hag’s classic “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” It’s a strong, collegial performance, though nothing stunning. Still, it’s hard to go wrong with that pairing.

In the end, about half of Old School, New Rules is a pretty good record, but those songs get overshadowed by the annoying political claptrap that ruins my enjoyment of the record.

I don’t mind a political song every now and then. “A Country Boy Can Survive” was certainly, in a way, a political song, but – and this goes for all artists, not just Hank – I really didn’t buy your album to hear your political views. I bought it to hear your music, and writing good songs should be more important than delivering your message.

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Fred Phillips

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