The man his daddy named Bocephus is back, and on the smoking-hot, “It’s About Time,” which Hank himself calls “probably the best record I have ever done,” draws a defining line in the sand as well as upping the bar for all those aspiring “outlaws” who might dare to venture into the territory of authentic hardcore country and balls-out boogie. On this slab of down-home righteousness and revelation, Hank Williams Jr. runs the musical gamut with a pedal-to-the-metal onslaught of rocking and rollicking gems that overflow with flavors of gospel and southern rock and all points in-between.
“Are You Ready for the Country” sets the tone and tightens the seat belt for this twelve-song musical joyride, Hank delivering this Neil Young classic as if it had been personally penned for his eyes and voice only. The heavy riffs and driving rhythm of this send-off carries over into the rest of the album as well, with Hank employing a stellar line-up of musicians and soulful back-up singers. “Are you ready for the country, are you ready for me,” Hank asks on this blasting outta-the-gate rocker, and the answer had better be yes, because if not, then best to stay on the porch with the puppies, because the big dogs are off and running with the pack on this one, and all that follows.
On “Club U.S.A” and “God Fearin’ Man,” Hank, in back-to-back fashion sums up once more all the respectable and honorable traits of being a patriotic working-class hero in the Land of the Free. “Bein’ born here is like hitting the lottery,” he declares on Club U.SA. “I’m a good standin’ member, I bleed red, white, and blue.” This theme of gratitude for being born in the right country at the right time carries over into “God Fearin’ Man,” and the whiskey glass sitting half full as “it’s off to make a livin’, and on my way, give a little thanks for the blessins’ I’ve been given.”
“Well there ain’t nobody wants to get stoned here anymore,” Hank laments on “Those Days Are Gone,” the kick-off line of this reminiscent drive down memory lane giving way to a more detailed description of how and why all his rowdy friends have finally settled down. On the only song of the album that even hints at slowing down a gear and allowing the listener to catch their breath, we come to sadly understand how the country music way of life and partying have taken a dive for the worse through the years. The swinging doors and “that honky tonkin’, beer jointin’, rough-neck crowd” and “no David Allan Coe on the radio” have long put out to pasture in place of modern TV sports bars and homogenized radio playlists dictated by bean counters and advertising executives.
Hank gives a subliminal nod to ZZ Top in the jaunty “Dress Like an Icon,” suggesting that “you gotta crank out a brand new plan, ’cause all women like a sharp dressed man,” while rattling off a Who’s Who list of those worth emulating, from Steve McQueen to B.B. King to Robert Johnson and Run DMC. Now is as good a time as any to mention what great lyrics and wordplay co-exist with the fine musicianship on this record, such as on this clever and swaggering tune.
Hank wraps his earlier-stated God-fearin’ man’s heart and not-yet cold, dead hands around his “Peacemaker 38 in the dresser drawer” with a solemn and sincere delivery of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “God And Guns,” and within this chilling rendition and tip of the holster to the Second Amendment are outlined more survival tactics for the country boy. “Got a shotgun, a rifle, and a four-wheel drive, God and Guns, country boy can survive.” And the closing line leaving us all with the fair warning of “we might as well give up and run if we let ’em take our God and guns.”
By the time the title track comes around, the party has already heated up, and on “It’s About Time,” you can practically hear the champagne bottles popping and see the hands in the air. This fist-pumping, rave-up rocker is where Hank digs the heels of his cowskins into that line in the sand and stomps it even deeper, declaring that “it’s about time for some country songs, it’s about time to play some southern rock all night long, ’cause we’ve had enough of this weird pop country sound.” Williams doesn’t beat around the bush here, and his call to arms on this gutsy and brawny declaration is to bring back the glory days of REAL country music, which this song and showcase album does more than its share of.
“It’s About Time” seems intentionally positioned to be the set-up for the next to follow, “The Party’s On,” an instant hit and what very well could have been the title track, because this barbequed bad boy of a record is indeed a party album, and this particular song brings it all home. Hard-working songwriter Joe Kent co-wrote this foot-stomper with Hank and Tony Stampley. Tony having had a few other Hank cuts under his belt, but this being the first major artist cut for Kent, whom the preceding title track seemed to have been written for personally. There is a great story within the story of this record. Joe Kent had battled in the trenches for decades, kicking down doors as well as having them slammed in his face, never giving up, always believing in his songs and that someone, dammit, needs to record at least one of them. Well, today Joe Kent can cross “have a living icon cut one of my tunes” off of his short list, because his song is on, as well as the party, and it’s about time. And, on this fresh-from-the-tap anthem, we are all happy to see that Hank’s rowdy friends are back in living color, and you can practically taste that pig in the ground and the cold beer on ice. “The party’s on, we’re startin’ early and we’re goin’ long, come on, come on, come on, the party’s on.”
If you think there is even a remote chance that by now, “It’s About Time” may have run its course, you are in for a pleasant surprise. Hank delivers a one-two knockout blow with the gospel rocker “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In Jesus (Gods’ Got It)” along with a fantastic remake of his signature song “Born To Boogie,” featuring the great Brad Paisley on guitar. You can’t really say he saved the best for last, either. Because, song by song, all twelve of these cuts are great, and this damn-near perfect collection of rants and raves is reason enough why we need to stop downloading songs here and there and sit down again and actually listen to records once more in the way that a great artist like Hank Williams Jr. intended for us to. Modern technology and the sad state of country music has taken our eye off the ball, but Hank kicks the pigskin as well as a few good cold ones into our face on this wonderful wake-up call.