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First things first: If my bootleg Hank III collection (what, you don’t have one?) is to be believed, a large percentage—80%, to be exact—of the tracks on Hillbilly Joker have been floating around the interwebs in a quasi-legal status since 2003 under the album title This Ain’t Country. (Some tracks also appear on III Shades of Hank; use this information however you’d like.) That said, even with a new moniker, the old This Ain’t Country is a pretty apt title—as Williams fans who dig his hard rock side project, Assjack, know, there’s more to the man than his souped-up, hellbound take on his grandfather’s genre. Hillbilly Joker splits the difference between Hank III proper and Assjack, and as a result, will either offer something for both sets of fans or disappoint them, depending on your level of cynicism.
The Hank III thematic elements are in place, even if the sound isn’t. The hard rock attack and more guttural vocals may turn off those who prefer their Hank twangy, nasal, and surrounded by steel guitars and fiddles, though even the haters may be surprised by how fluid Williams’s voice is on a tune like “10 Feet Down,” twisting from cookie monster growl to swagger to croak on a syllable, as if possessed by a demon; he makes Jello Biafra sound like Calvin Johnson. — PopMatters
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