Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hank Williams Jr.

  • Hank Williams Jr. and Friends [MGM, 1975] A-
  • The New South [Warner Bros., 1978] B
  • Family Tradition [Elektra, 1979] C
  • Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound [Elektra, 1979] B+
  • Greatest Hits [Elektra, 1982] B
  • Montana Cafe [Warner Bros., 1986] C
  • Wild Streak [Warner/Curb, 1987] C+
  • Greatest Hits III [Warner Bros., 1989] B+
  • America (The Way I See It) [Curb, 1990] C-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Hank Williams Jr. and Friends [MGM, 1975]
Williams moved his country heritage toward rock and roll shortly after a confrontation with death on a mountain, and here the transformation conveys that kind of conviction. In fact, the authority of Williams' voice and persona, plus the good sense of his songwriting and selection, focuses an Allman and a Marshall Tucker and a Charlie Daniels into what I'm sure will stand as the best Southern-style rock of the year. No kidding--if you don't find Grinderswitch a suitable replacement for the Brothers, here's yours. A-

The New South [Warner Bros., 1978]
Dear Up-and-Comer: OK, pretty good for a country-rock album--more spirited than your second, less inspired than your first. But let me mention a few things. The Atlanta Braves are not, repeat not, ordinarily identified with the Old South. Rain gets to be a pretty tedious symbol of life's tribulations. The road gets to be a pretty tedious symbol of life's changes. And if you want to get away from Dad, well, I know it'd be a lot of trouble to change your name, but maybe you could do a whole album that doesn't refer to him at all. And you could stop doing his songs, too--it's bad luck that the best cut here is the one he wrote, now isn't it? I mean, you really could use a new exemplar. Good luck finding him or her. (Signed) Roll on, Dean. P.S. Not Waylon Jennings, either. B

Family Tradition [Elektra, 1979]
Since "To Love Somebody" isn't exactly Hank's kind of song, I guess he disavowed the Ray Ruff-produced side of this. On the other hand, "Family Tradition" (guess who that's about) leads off the other side, and it is exactly Hank's kind of song. Exactly. That's not so great either. C

Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound [Elektra, 1979]
At times his son-of-an-outlaw obsession is worse than shtick, but here he does justice to the formula. Two candid songs about women tell you more about his sexism than he knows himself, two others explain why he's in that mood, the covers from Gregg Allman and George Jones define his parameters, and "The Conversation"--with Waylon Guess Who, about Guess Who, Sr.--doesn't make you gag once. B+

Greatest Hits [Elektra, 1982]
He may be Rosa Luxemburg compared to the Nashville squares he's forever railing against, but he's also a self-indulgent, self-pitying, self-mythologizing MCP, and though this format maximizes the MCP's entertainment and truth value he doesn't get away with "Kaw-Liga" or "Texas Women." Rosa inspires "The American Dream," which has truths to tell about a Hollywood square with the initials RR. The booster who made his debut on "The New South" tells two lies about New York. B

Montana Cafe [Warner Bros., 1986]
Having survived his brush with death, his defection to rock, and his obsession with his daddy, whom he now outsells, Williams rests on his laurels as professional braggart and secondhand showbiz legend. He's one of the few country artists who goes gold at least partly because he's not really country--like rock both '50s and post-Allmans, country's just grist for a macho vaudeville that on this album blows even harder than usual. The tip-off's "Bocephus," a return to unabashed me-me-me. But let us now overlook the ill-rhymed polka about cowboy hats, the Leon Redbone-styled "Harvest Moon," and the novelty rag about pretty girls whose "pig" friends interfere with the workings of Junior's dick. C

Wild Streak [Warner/Curb, 1987]
The age of AIDS hasn't left him untouched--he takes his women one at a time and indulges in telephone sex. But usually Junior comes on like such a wild-ass that you can only tell him from the average rapper by his primitive sense of rhythm and his failure to mention the size of his dick. Last album was called Born To Boogie, this one features Gary Rossington in Skynyrd simulations that top Skynyrd's own, and the CMA is so desperate to stay up-to-dately in-the-tradition that it keeps kissing his ass. Not that "If the South Woulda Won" can be said to go against the Nashville grain--nobody really wants to go back to slavery, understand, but if that's the price of more hangings and no more foreign cars, we may have to bite the bullet. Anyway, Hank drops in a good word for Martin Luther King on the very next song. How much do these people want? C+

Greatest Hits III [Warner Bros., 1989]
How embarrassing--when I let my guard down this flattering sampler catches me thinking that maybe the CMA has a point. The "Ain't Misbehavin'" isn't gratuitous, the miracle-of-science duet with his dad isn't dead, the star-studded "Mind Your Own Business" swings like a mother, the autobiography is good shtick, and the country songs are good country songs--"This Ain't Dallas" is a classic of the TV age. And though "Young Country" disses punks, I'll trade for r&b even up. B+

America (The Way I See It) [Curb, 1990]
Even known assholes don't come up with concept albums slavering to send our "top guns" after Saddam (sounds like "Satan"), complaining to Lincoln about "nuisance suits," and advocating the freelance murder of miscreants who beat the rap (he claims). Take it as proof that Monday-night football is a rightwing plot. And ask the RIAA why his guns 'n vengeance don't rate a warning sticker. C-