MUSIC REVIEW | Hank Williams III – Risin’ Outlaw (1999)


When a second generation takes on the same profession as a first, and does it with some success, that’s one thing. When a third gives it a red hot crack and comes out the other end unscathed, you’ve got a dynasty on your hands. Hollywood had the Fondas, country music has the Williams clan. Hank Williams Sr defined mid 20th country music more than any other performer. His music is still revered today and the effects are still obvious. Hank Jr cut his own path with a different, more glitzy, almost pop approach to country in the 70s. Then, it was time for Hank Williams III to have his own go, kicking off in 1999 with Risin’ Outlaw.

The title alone is an indication that Hank Three isn’t interested in the Christian fuelled modesty of his grandfather. And based on my limited experience with his father, it also sounds like he had no intention in following in the slick, studio sheen of that time either. The title would suggest that Williams the youngest is more interested in the shit kicking guys, like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. Which is what makes the opening tracks a little underwhelming.

All tatted up and looking for trouble, or so I assumed, I Don’t Know and You’re the Reason are surprisingly traditional in the pedal steel guitars and cartoon country twang delivery. They come off with more of a cheeky wink, than raised middle finger attitude. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and both are more than listenable, I was just expecting a little more rebellion.

Rebellion that is just a tad on the nose in If the Shoe Fits. It’s Williams listing all of the edgy things he’s done, but with the clichéd country sound and braggy tone, it comes off as a wannabe bad boy trying to convince us he’s an actual a bad boy.

The pace finally picks up with What Did Love Ever Do. A perfect country song title, the execution delivers and it’s the best use of Williams’ old school, borderline yodelled vocals. If you’ve ever heard a slightly upbeat country song, you’ve heard this honky tonk progression and arrangement. But that’s only because it’s such a tried and tested approach. And that tried and tested approach works here, just like it always does.

Stripped back, slow and subtle, On My Own is the most obvious throwback to the senior Williams, and it’s all the better for it. The recording technology might make it a little cleaner than anything original recipe Hank ever laid down, but the same tone and feel are there.

Finally, into the second half, Devil’s Daughter delivers on the album title’s promise of a risin’ outlaw. It basically has the same instrumental ingredients as every song that comes before it, but Devil’s Daughter finds a darkness that the rest of the album just never does. An entire album in that vein is something I’d really like to hear.

At their best, Hank Williams III and Risin’ Outlaw invoke the heart and attitude of Hank Williams Sr. At their worst (like a terrible, terrible cover of Johnny Cash’s Cocaine Blues), they sound like a Saturday Night Live sketch about a shitty country singer. Unfortunately, the bad slightly outweighs the good, but the good is good enough to make me see the potential in Hank Three. It’s nowhere near as good as Senior, but it’s slightly better than what I’ve heard from Junior.

Hank Williams III

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