Album Review – Hank Williams Jr.’s ‘It’s About Time’

hank-williams-jr-its-about-time

This review was written by a past guest contributor of Country Perspective. 

The start of a new year is the perfect time to start anew. For Hank Jr., it’s quite appropriate that he’s releasing his first album of new material in four years under a new label in Big Machine’s Nash Icon imprint. After a long career with Curb Records that spanned more than forty years and produced more than fifty studio albums, as well as releasing an album through his own “Bocephus Records” in 2012, it seemed like Hank was more than ready to move on to bigger and better things and release a new album. In fact, Hank even deemed his new studio album, “It’s About Time” his best work yet. That’s quite a lofty expectation from a singer who many would say had his best work in the 80s.

When it comes to what I think of the country legend, I don’t have much of an opinion. As a child of the 2000s, I can’t exactly say that I grew up with his music, nor have I ever really actively sought it out. And really, this isn’t surprising considering Hank is one of the more forgotten legends when you think of artists who were active in the 80s. It’s not like Hank is a bad artist mind you, he just hasn’t always caught my attention. But like I said, it’s a new year, and it’s a time to try new things, which is why I decided to take the plunge and see what Hank’s new album was like.

The album starts off with the lead single, “Are You Ready For The Country”, a duet with Eric Church and originally recorded by Waylon Jennings and penned by Neil Young. Honestly, I think this is one of the better tracks on the album, especially given that I think the fiddle work is solid here, but I can understand where people would be indifferent towards this and think of it as nothing but a retread. As Josh said in his review: “Overall this isn’t a bad song nor is it a good song. It’s one of those songs that just exists and you really have no opinion of it. The best things you can say about the song is at least it’s country and it’s not offensive. As I said about the vocal performances, I think they’re good and get the job done. But nothing is really done to elevate this song and re-invent it, which maybe you really can’t do to a song like this one.

The next song is “Club U.S.A.” Now, anyone who knows Hank knows he can get a little political at times (and boy is this an understatement), and thankfully It’s About Time only has political moments rather than being an overall political album. “Club U.S.A” is kind of one of those moments. The song’s theme is pretty simple. Hank Jr. tells us how America is the greatest country in the world and how everyone who isn’t already here wishes they were. As for the song itself, it’s very overproduced, loud southern rock, often times drowning out the vocal track during the verses to the point where upon first listen, the only thing I could make out in this song was Hank screaming the title. Next up is “God Fearin’ Man,” a song that continues on the tradition of the first two tracks by being loud, overproduced and rockin’. Really, this song isn’t thematically or lyrically bad, but I feel like it would have benefited from a more relaxed production. Hell, even Hank says himself at the end, “man, they played like they were pissed.” In addition to this little talking bit, Hank also proclaims, “Are You Ready For The Country?” Yes Hank, we’re already past that song. Let it go buddy.

“Those Days Are Gone” is arguably the best song on the album. It’s a solid honky-tonk number that actually allows the production to breathe (well, at least as much as it can….) for the first time on this album. In this song, Hank reminisces on the good ol’ days, and how he misses guys like Merle Haggard, George Jones, and David Allan Coe, especially on country radio. He acknowledges that those days are gone however, and aren’t coming back. It’s not a great song, mind you, but it’s at least a good song. The best song on the album is followed up by the absolute worst song on the album, “Dress Like An Icon.” The theme of this song contradicts pretty much every other theme on this album. Where a song like “God Fearin’ Man” celebrates the working class hero, or a song like “Those Days Are Gone” laments on the current state of country music, “Dress Like An Icon” pretty much says that if you want to gain any sort of recognition in life, you have to not be yourself. Instead you should “step like Nicki Minaj,” “wear black like Johnny Cash,” and get a load of this one, “have them stacked like Dolly Parton.” I shit you not, those are actual things promoted here.

Not that trying to emulate someone like Johnny Cash or Dolly is bad mind you, but it’s sad when we have a country legend promoting everyone to be fake and flashy to get to the top. I have to wonder if this song hadn’t already existed for a while now, as I definitely think a few mainstream country artists had already heard this. That’s not to mention that the production is once again completely overdone, and Hank sounds bored as can be on this song. Plus, you’re telling me that Hank is on Nash Icon and recorded a song called “Dress Like An Icon” purely out of coincidence? I think not. Skip this song entirely. Surprisingly enough this is one of five songs on the album that was written purely by Hank, making this song all the more frustrating.

Hank gets political again on “God and Guns,” and if it sounds familiar, it is. Southern-rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd covered it for their 2009 album of the same name. This song calls to question what kind of world we would live in if politicians took our guns and God, and it’s a good thing people like Hank are around to prevent that from happening. I’m not going to go any into any further detail with the song. You already know whether you’d like or wouldn’t like this song based on the description I just gave, so we’ll leave it at that. “Just Call Me Hank” is Hank’s way of reflecting upon himself, and his career. He states that he never thought he’d shed the lovesick blues (an allusion to always living in his father’s shadow), and that he doesn’t play many shows anymore, but when he does, he wants it to be real and rocking. This song really didn’t bother me until we hit the chorus. Once it hits, Hank proclaims:

“Don’t call me an icon, don’t care about the hall of fame”

OK……weren’t you just the one who literally said you have to dress like an icon to achieve any sort of prominence? Hell, he even says at the end of “Dress Like An Icon” that he’s an icon! Still, the song overall isn’t bad. The production here at least fits into the country category rather than the overwrought southern rock mold. There’s at least some heart to this that I can appreciate. “Mental Revenge” is another cover of a Waylon Jennings song and really, there isn’t much to say here. This version is a heck of a lot more upbeat, which doesn’t fit the mood of the song at all. Just stick with the original, or even Jamey Johnson’s fantastic version from his 2010, The Guitar Song album. Where “Just Call Me Hank” found Hank reflecting on the past, “It’s About Time” focuses on the future. The song starts off with Hank stating where he wants to go on his journey in life next, which is back home to Alabama. The song then takes a complete left turn when the chorus hits, saying it’s about time Hank plays some real country and southern rock to wash out the “weird pop-country sound.” There have been protest songs that have been done better, but there’s at least a sense of belief to this song, even if Hank Jr. is still on a major label which has supported pop-country acts. You can look at “The Party’s On” as a watered down version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” or a bro-country song, and you’d probably be right on both counts. There’s not much to say about this song other than that.

“Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In Jesus (God’s Got It)” is about a man who goes fishing. He manages to hook a big fish, and surprisingly enough the fish can’t get away. He then proclaims that he wishes Jesus had a hook on him similar to the one that the man has on the fish. One night, Jesus finally does hook him! When he tries to tell everyone that Jesus came unto him, nobody believes him. Later on, he proclaims that if you have a friend in Jesus, you can have anything you want. Heck, a friend? Sure. Shoulder to cry on? Sure, God can do that. New car? Sure….wait what?!? It’s as completely ridiculous as it sounds. The theme of this song moves from fishing, to finding Jesus and then getting things just because you’re Jesus’s friend? Seriously what is the overall message here? If the story doesn’t sound hokey enough, the production will surely do it for you. Of all the spots where the production is just way too much, this song takes the cake by a long shot. Complete with gospel singers and a completely overwrought vocal performance, this song is just way too much. That’s not to mention the fact that it’s six freakin’ minutes long! And really, once you’re halfway through the song it’s essentially just repetitive and boring. The album comes to a close with a rendition of Hank’s very own hit, “Born To Boogie” with Brantley Gilbert, Justin Moore and Brad Paisley (Was Earl Dibbles Jr. busy that day Hank?). I’ll say the same thing here that I said about “Mental Revenge”, skip this and just listen to the original. You’ll be much better off.

Overall, if you were a Hank Jr. fan going into this album, then you’ll most likely enjoy this and hey more power to you. For others, “It’s About Time” is full of pretty much nothing but a lot loud, obnoxious and overdone southern rock, retreads of old songs, and a few redeeming moments. Considering this is Hank’s first new album in four years, and considering that it’s the first on a brand new label, it just feels like there wasn’t a lot of effort put into It’s About Time. It’s certainly not going to be anywhere close to the worst country album you’ll hear this year, but it’s hard to recommend It’s About Time to anyone but hardcore Hank Jr. fans.

Grade: 4/10

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4 thoughts on “Album Review – Hank Williams Jr.’s ‘It’s About Time’

  1. Great review, Zack. Prime Hank Jr. is pretty much as good as country music gets for me, but I can’t say I’m shocked at all by the mediocre reviews this album is getting. He hasn’t released a really good album in close to three and a half decades, in my estimation. His last album was really sad outside of two or three good cuts. I think I’ll just skip this one and go listen to Whiskey Bent or Habits Old and New again when I want my Bocephus fix.

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    • Ya’ll don’t know shit when it comes to “listening to ol Bocephus. ” That’s another problem we have here in our Country… They don’t know how to “listen” to the lyrics and artists like Hank Jr, Waylon, Johnny Cash etc. And Andy, there’s only one drifter pal and that Luke. Ol Kristofferson wrote a great American song for people that don’t really like and skips an album of Hank’s, called “if you don’t like Hank Williams” (you can kiss our ass) . In closing, the Man fell 572′ straight down off a huge mountain. Now that would’ve killed most any man… Why do ya think that GOD saved his life people? I think, in my opinion, WE ALL HAD BETTER “LISTEN” TO ANY AND “EVERYTHING” THAT OL BOCEPHUS HAS GOD TO SAY! I KNOWN I WILL, FOREVER. And one more thing,,, you know how brothers fight sometime? Well me and Hank Jr are Brothers of full blood, and we’ve never had a crossed word. Good luck in your choices there Andy and all the rest that wants to “skip one of BOCEPHUS’ albums.” MARANATHA! and
      WAKAN TANKA KICI UN.

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  2. I haven’t heard it, but is ‘Dress Like An Icon’ similar to the Statler Brothers’ “How To Be A Country Star” in that the mention of Dolly is sort of a joke?

    “But if you have no talent and you’re not a male If you’re built somewhat like Dolly or have a face like
    Crystal Gayle…”

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  3. Honestly, I’ve never been able to get into this guy’s music.

    And I’ve legitimately tried. I’ve given most of his albums a fair shake, and the same issues I have with him just keep surfacing again and again. The one positive that has been constant is his strong musicianship and (mostly) passion as a vocalist. But those are sadly undercut, firstly, by the songwriting and lyricism almost always failing to keep pace. He is rarely subtle, and with that his lyricism rarely has nuance or description. That’s especially true on his relationship and political songs. And, secondly, his music has always owed more to blues-rock than country music to begin with. And don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my share of blues and rock and roll. But because it tends to be a less diverse genre than country music, it can get overly repetitive taking in his brand of music after a while to the extent I swear I’m listening to the same thing again and again.

    *

    And those issues are endemic to “It’s About Time” all the same.

    With the way this album was hyped prior to its release as an event unlike a parade of predecessors (most of the hype surrounding “Old School New Rules” was his anti-Obama song “Keep The Change”, so that’s different) and a career record under NASH Icon…………………….you’d think Hank Jr. would have a little more to say than we’re accustomed to expecting from him. Instead, you get pretty much entirely what you expect a Hank Williams Jr. album to sound and be, for better or worse.

    And depending on the context, consistency isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Consistency can work to your advantage if you maintain a sort of populist likeability, sing and perform like you still genuinely care, and cut songs that feel relatively personal but have a universal appeal. George Strait and Alan Jackson accomplish all of this, and while it’s nice when either of them choose to mix it up a bit, you can’t fault them for staying in their country gold wheelhouses.

    Here, consistency just doesn’t pay off nearly as well. Especially on the least nuanced and acerbic tracks (“Dress Like An Icon”, “God & Guns”) where he just comes across as sour and disgruntled. “God & Guns” was an f***ing terrible song when Lynyrd Skynyrd first wrote and cut it, and it’s no less of a f***ing terrible song now that is most insulting to the intelligence and both oversimplifies and mischaracterizes the complex issues that are the freedom of religion and gun responsibility in our culture: committing logical fallacies to diminish the concerns surrounding the lack of gun regulation and unchecked religious authority as antithetical to the working man. And with “Dress Like An Icon”, need I say how hypocritical he comes across in his framing? I mean, it isn’t that he’s without a point and I agree with most of the message itself……………..but the lack of awareness on the behalf of the messenger is outright astonishing.

    These two songs encapsulate a central issue similar to what tends to keep Toby Keith from producing particularly enjoyable albums in later years. They’re aware they’re cultural icons, but that self-awareness doesn’t translate to their writing and framing of songs. Because on each of their albums we’re presented with songs that are more infomercials than art. Where they are selling an image of that person instead of their own heart and soul. And that kind of business first, art second disposition permeates much of this album no differently than your typical Hank Williams Jr. or Toby Keith album.

    “Club USA” is another blatant example of this. It’s not a bad song per se, but can you really buy this is him simply spilling his heart and soul? Regardless of what one thinks about American exceptionalism, I would ask: “Why do we NEED this?” Why do we need this when pundits across the traditional media and on countless political blogs have already been saying the exact same talking points to extremes? You just get the impression he’s cashing in on a bumper sticker slogan trend rather than speaking from experience.

    Or take “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In Jesus (God’s Got It)”. The premise of the song is nothing new. Have we not heard countless celebrities and business executives attempt to shove “The Secret” down our throats tirelessly in recent years and insist, as long as you visualize something you want enough, you’ll always get it and, in the case of starving children across the world or those battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases and so forth…………………that they only have themselves to blame because they didn’t visualize well enough? This song and its message is no less shallow than that. It’s like a theological twist on “The Secret”. Needless to say, I didn’t like that track one bit.

    *

    It’s when Hank Williams Jr. chooses not to dwell on his image and legacy and let the music do the talking that we find his stronger moments.

    “Those Days Are Gone”, I agree, is the album’s best track because while it is clearly built on nostalgia and the heartache of letting things go, it doesn’t try to play the “Get off my lawn!” card or make younger types like Millennials look pathetic in comparison. Here, Hank Jr. is more concerned with his own experience and what he has seen with his own eyes and doesn’t make any value judgments. He just genuinely misses things the way they were and knows things will never be quite the same and is, understandably, struggling to come to terms with it. That’s a very understandable, bittersweet feeling and I think Hank Jr. pulls it off well.

    “God Fearin’ Man” is respectable too. Regardless of one’s opinion on religion, it doesn’t come across as imposing in the way “God & Guns” was and has more of the right idea in the framing of how it simply depicts how it’s the way of life the narrator has known and his heritage. Nothing deep at all, but I happen to know this is how many of my loved ones were raised and so the sentiment is pure and makes for a more believable take on the subject.

    *

    As a whole, though, this just didn’t connect with me and has its share of cringe-worthy moments.

    I keep hoping to hear Hank Jr. HIMSELF talk on a proper studio album of his: rather than relying either on the image of him or cover songs inferior to their originals. It’s that lack of a distinctive point of view, heart and soul that explains why I’ve always felt at a disconnect with his body of work, and that is magnified with “It’s About Time”. What can I say? I just vastly prefer both the music of his father and Hank III over his.

    I’m thinking a Decent To Strong 3 out of 10 for this.

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