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Hank Williams' latest record rooted in tale of his parents

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Seventy albums into your recording career, you can do anything you want. Lug a mixing board into a ramshackle school-turned-honky tonk with poisonous snakes coiling under the floorboards. Invent an alter ego to croak out songs that will get the PC police all in a tizzy. Make music that commercial radio will avoid like the plague.

When you're Hank Williams Jr., you don't have to "give a damn."

At this stage in his prodigious career, all he needs is a creative outlet for those precious family juices. In his uniquely colorful, down-home way, Williams has found a new device that lets him hoist the family crest while making his music. It's a new disc called "Almeria Club." Like nearly everything associated with Hank Sr. and Miss Audrey's baby boy, there's a story attached.

Before Hank Sr.'s career took off, he was gigging at a smoky Alabama dive when some drunk and jilted lunkhead with a pistol started spraying the place with bullets. He dropped his guitar, tossed his wife out the nearest window and dove out after her.

Fast-forward a half century. Hank Jr. is at a neighborhood cookout at a rundown club near his property.

"This real sharp-dressed senior couple there said, 'This is a wonderful place. Your mom and daddy played here,' " said Williams. They told him the story of the Almeria Club.

"The next morning, I went back at daylight and bought it," said Williams. "The acoustics were great. We hauled in some recording equipment and did some of this record there. I called up some friends to play with us and we had a good ol' time. This project was nothing but a labor of love from the beginning."

Those friends include Kid Rock, Williams' new and mouthy rap-metal friend; the bluegrass boys from Nickel Creek; and Thunderhead Hawkins, Williams' new blues persona. The Curb album, co-produced by Chuck Howard and Williams, finds the old-school country-rocker keeping his distance from New Country and drifting deeper into the folksy Americana format, represented locally in some specialty shows on WYEP (91.3 FM).

Kid Rock's musical presence is virtually unnoticeable, though he was the inspiration behind "The F Word," a twangy, countrified explanation of what you can't say in country music, punctuated with a disappointingly weak hook.

More encouraging is "If the Good Lord's Willin' (And the Creeks Don't Rise)." Williams put a melody to a page of his dad's discarded poetry and tied it all together with Hank Sr.'s famous radio tag line.

"Cross on the Highway" is a plaintive tribute to NFL linebacker Derrick Thomas and another of Williams' friends, Michael Tellis, who died in a traffic accident in 2000. Senior's boyhood musical inspiration, Rufus Payne, is honored in the "Tee Tot Song." Junior's new incarnation, Thunderhead, takes the folksy blues route on a few fun tunes.

All of "Almeria Club" is traditional country or bluesy rock 'n' roll. None of it is likely to get much of a spin on contemporary commercial airwaves. And Williams couldn't care less.

"When I started in this business, they said I was too rocky. Now, they say I'm too traditional," he says. "Look, I don't have to be on the top of the bookshelf, I just want to be in the bookcase. I went into [the music trade magazine] Billboard in 1964 and I'm there right now. If radio can find something on this album that they want to play, that's wonderful. If they don't, I'm not going to lose time in the deer stand over it, know what I mean?"

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