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.