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For years, the Honky Tonk Hustlas have been a hub right in the middle of the deep South, keeping the heart of real/underground country alive in an area infected with the sickness of country pop as much as any other. Their first album Hallways of the Always (2008) was a solid offering, and though they have never been a big touring band, they have shared many bills with big names rolling through their stomping ground of Montgomery, AL.
The band is fronted by T. Junior, who also writes a majority of the songs. The strength of the band is his naturally-unique, slightly higher-pitched voice with an endearing, nasally quality that can’t be faked. The lineup of the band is straightforward, with an acoustic guitar, upright bass, and mandolin/lead guitar. South of Nashville is also fleshed out by the legendary Andy Gibson, who beyond being Hank III’s steel guitar player, is our generation’s Tompall Glaser, recording over a dozen bands at this point in his home operation, opening up professional-quality recordings to artists that rarely can afford them, and doing it in a comfortable setting that nurtures creative freedom.
The instrumentation, arrangements, and performances on the album are very solid, and South of Nashville is slick, in regards that it does not sound like a home recording or a hurried project. Time was taken to do it right, and the same can be said for the cover art and presentation. Sonically, this is a fun album, constructed in the “hellbilly”, full-tilt, hard country mold.
I’ve heard some people say that this album “sounds” like Hank III. I disagree to some extent. T. Junior’s voice is nowhere near similar to Shelton’s, and the instrumentation is way more acoustic oriented compared to what Hank III is doing these days. Where the similarities between the Honky Tonk Hustlas and Hank III lie are in the lyrics.
The problem with South of Nashville is when you really sit down and listen to the lyrics and try to have them speak to you, there is nothing there. Nothing. At all. Or it is so buried under under cliche, it is barely worth searching for. The parody of Hank III and of the Honky Tonk Hustlas themselves in the lyrics can only be described as “relentless” and “awesome”. The parody almost seems purposeful, because it is so undeniable and blaring. The “whiskey, devil, I don’t give a fuck” parade goes on mercilessly for 15 tracks until you don’t want to hear another death reference for the rest of your life.
If I lined up all the comments from people on Saving Country Music saying they were tired of all the “whiskey, devil, cocaine” lyrics in the songs and albums I tout, I could reach the moon and back. In 2006 when Hank III released Straight to Hell, it felt fresh and relevant, but that style was played out over a year ago. And even in Straight to Hell and Hank III’s subsequent albums, there’s way more diversity than can be found here. His last album Rebel Within had songs like “Lookin’ For a Mountain” and “Karmageddon” and “#5″ that offered a breather from the “drinking and druggin’” anthems.
In the Rebel Within album review written almost a year ago I said:
Some will complain that the drinking songs are too much. I agree that Hank should open up some new song themes in the future, though he starts down this path in this album. But Hank III reinvigorated the ‘hellraising” attitude in country. One of the reasons it seems overused is because Hank inspired an army of copycats who can’t craft an original idea, throwing out “whiskey,devil, cocaine” references with no direction or purpose.
This is what the Honky Tonk Hustlas do in South of Nashville, and it not only drags them down, it drags Hank III down, and all other bands who have these hard-edged songs but include some originality or diversity in their projects as well. Hell, it is dragging me down, because I have to answer to critics who say this “whiskey, devil” stuff is all I cover. The lyrics on the album are so stultifyingly bad, it oozes out to infect other projects, and the independent country scene in general, perpetuating negative stereotypes. Think of it like the spandex glam rocker in 2002 or something–way past its relevancy, but not long enough yet to be retro or even ironic. It’s just bad.
Maybe the best example is the title track “South of Nashville.” Good title and idea behind it, good music, fun song, but the lyrics are so cliche you can anticipate what is coming next, and at times, they don’t even make sense:
Well I was born way down in Dixie, round about a half past 9
Ever since then I’ve been raising hell, and man I’m feelin’ fine.
Then he launches into talking about how he needs to “get out on that road, no ain’t no lookin’ back”. Yet in the same phrase he says, “So I just keep on staying here, just South of Nashville”. OK, so which one is it? Are you on the road, or staying put? There’s a lot of references to being on the road in this album, which is a common theme in country music, but the Honky Tonk Hustlas have never done any substantial touring. May they be making the classic songwriting mistake of not writing what you know about? If HTH’s had toured, maybe they could write lyrics with more meaning and soul. These lyrics just don’t speak to me.
There are a few exceptions if you dig deep and listen hard. “After I’m Gone” is a decently-written, sweet waltz, but would be better if it wasn’t dragged down by all the other songs that reference death. “You Can’t Go Back” is probably the best written song on the album, addressing a very soulful subject. “Corporate Man” is not wholly original on it’s own, but by the time you get to the 14th track, you feel so thankful to get a breather from all the “I’m dying and I don’t give a fuck” references.
I just don’t understand dragging this album out to 15 tracks. Better to have 10 good ones, or even 9 if that’s all you can pony up. Take the three songs I mentioned, the title track, and a few others and you have a decent album. Adding dead weight just to feel like you’re giving the consumer more than they are paying for defeats the purpose by burying anything worth listening to under all the chaff. And it’s not the songwriting overall; the structures of the songs are good, and at times great. It’s the lyrics. I’m sure this album will still have lots of fans. Some albums I’ll argue till I’m blue in the face about how bad they are. This one scores high on many aspects, and so I can’t blame it for speaking to some. But I also can’t lie. It doesn’t speak to me. I need some soul and originality.
I also can’t blame anyone for saying they won’t touch the Hustlas music with a 10 foot pole, after T. Junior launched into many folks on an article meant to promote them.
We all make mistakes. Lord knows I have. If you strung all my bad articles together and paraded them in front of me, I’d probably be looking for a rope and a tree. And we all have bad days and demons and regrets; that’s why we are country music fans, and why the music speaks to us like it does. But the measure of a man is how he handles those mistakes once they are dealt. I will not judge T. Junior for losing his cool. Because God knows I have. What I’m interested in is what happens next. And then we all have ourselves to judge, if we can offer understanding and forgiveness if it is asked for, or not.
One gun up for a fun, well-produced, well-performed album.
One gun down for horrifically-cliched lyrics.
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Preview entire album below:
First off I want to apologize to everyone about all the drama that has been happening in some of the comments sections of recent articles. When I started this website, I did so with a strict philosophy that everybody should have a place to voice their opinion, and that discussion and disagreement when done with respect can contribute to a healthy community. I have always encouraged criticism and dissenting viewpoints. I have also always had a strict distaste for censorship in any and all forms. So if I or anyone else posted something on the site, it was there for eternity.
This approach created one of the most vibrant, strong, and interactive online communities that could be found in ALL of music. I believe, and still believe, that the best thing about this site is the comments sections, where people discuss and argue points, and problems are solved. But as we grow, the readership has broadened and attracted people that do not appreciate or understand the core values that SCM was founded on.
I also feel the need to set the record straight that this was not happening in the comments of ALL the articles, or even a majority of the articles. For three years there were very few problems at all. It was the advent of the Shooter Jennings XXX Movement when it seemed like the drama rose to a bellicose level; not to blame XXX entirely or solely, but its launching was the big event that lead us to where we are today, which is a website that at times seems like it is filled with drama and drama only. But again, it is far from common. The article where T Junior of the Honky Tonk Hustlas went on a rampage was the latest, but have to go back over two weeks to the Izzy Cox article before you find another. There were 13 articles between the two that were just fine.
But this brings up another problem facing Saving Country Music: the fact that most readers now see the site through the filter of Facebook. On Facebook, you are more likely to see the things that are getting more attention from other people and your friends. So if you don’t come to SCM directly, but rely on links that show up in your FB feed, you are likely to only see the drama. The mild-mannered album review with 7 comments is less likely to show up than the anti-pop country rant whose 150+ comments have descended into written warfare. If you never click on the “Home” button and zoom out to ALL the SCM content, you may think that is all SCM is, and that is why I see the comments like “All the articles now are just filled with drama!” or “All you ever do is write about “whiskey, devil, cocaine” bands!” or “All you do is bash pop country!” I don’t do all of anything.
That is why I encourage people to come to the site itself, or follow me on Twitter so you can get a real-time news feed of ALL the articles, instead of Facebook deciding what you will see. We will also be launching the Newsletter this week, which will also help folks stay connected. We have also just added a news feed, so even more news can be covered on the site, and people do not need to rely on Facebook to stay connected on the music side of life, and the chat room is now available from the main page and has been updated with features, and can be utilized by anybody and everybody 24/7.
I take some responsibility too for the SCM comments sections getting out of hand. That is why, unfortunately, I have reversed my policy on comments. This is a not victory for anybody. We all lose with this. But I’d rather lose a few inflammatory comments and commenters than a site that helps promote the music we all love, and keep in check the music and industry that we don’t. I have drafted a set of comment rules that people will be expected to follow. Again, because 90% of the articles and comments are fine, most will likely never have to worry about them. But because they are set in stone, nobody can complain (though I’m sure some still will) that I am purposely suppressing people’s opinions, or other information that might reflect poorly on what I have said or on my positions, by abjectly deleting or editing comments.
As for XXX, I have not changed my stance on it, I am STILL neither for or against it, but topics like XXX, and others that have been hotbeds of drama, will likely be avoided for the most part moving forward. I hope XXX all the best, and I don’t rule out in the future working with XXX either behind the scenes, or out front. But for now, I must focus on putting my own house back in order, and my top priority is the Saving Country Music community that I spent 3 years constructing.
I hope the best for Adam Sheets of No Depression (the co-founder of XXX) but we have both agreed that he and the SCM community are like oil and water, and that it would be best for all if he avoid commenting on the site unless necessary. Opponents of XXX like Keith at Hillgrass Bluebilly and Autopsy IV at ninebullets.net have called Shooter Jennings an anchor and a burden on XXX. I could not disagree more. I have been nothing but impressed by Shooter’s leadership, his willingness to be open-minded and work with people, his accessibility, and at times his cool head and wisdom. And no, this is not because I am charmed that a semi-celebrity is on my site making comments. I also still think at the core, XXX is a good idea.
The problem for me with XXX has been execution. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the drama surrounding XXX has put Saving Country Music through a lot of hell over the past few months. One philosophy SCM was founded on was that it is about people first, them music. Music is just the excuse, the medium to talk about the challenges of living a principled life in the modern world, and about community. Read the quote at the top of the page. Our fight is music, but those same values can be taken to food, politics, culture, whatever.
T Junior and the Honky Tonk Hustlas were (and are) touted by XXX. Their album is still at the top of the XXX page (or was when I posted this). This type of “throw the barn door wide” approach of letting anybody who wants to call themselves XXX, be XXX, cannot be the approach of Saving Country Music. I throw stones at huge record labels, mega-pop franchises, and big institutions, many of which have teams of lawyers on retainer, some of which visit SCM regularly, looking for a chink in the armor, or an excuse to discredit what we do here. We owe it to the artists we fight for to keep our nose clean, and not only to represent better music, but better people as well; to sling our mud, but always stay on the moral high ground by respecting everyone at a basic human level, and never descending into base name calling simply to vent anger.
We are only as strong as our weakest link, so the music touted here truly must be the best, and the musicians must be good people as well.
I know that I am disliked by many, and I swear I mean it when I say I don’t care. My job is to be as honest with everyone as I absolutely can when it concerns my opinion about music, and use whatever wit I might possess to help fight our fights. You don’t have to like me or even respect me, but please understand, I do not get paid to do this. I have written over 1000+ blogs now that each take on average 2 1/2 hours to write, and any money the site generates goes directly to the webmaster, because he has kids and I don’t. And before you get with your buddies on Facebook and decide who I am on a personal level, appreciate that there has never been an assumption made about me that has been right yet. Nobody knows who I am, and I like to keep it that way, because it’s not about me, it’s about the music.
And before you make any hard and fast judgements about “agendas” I have with who I cover or the direction of this site, please make yourself come up with a motive. Ask yourself “Why would someone born and raised in the South, be going out of his way to purposely avoid promoting bands from the South?” Especially when my Album of the Year for 2010 was from a man from Chattanooga, TN. My nose follows the best music. Or at least it tries to. I am not perfect, and I am far from being omniscient enough to know everything out there. And I make mistakes every day. But I try my best.
What I cover on the site has to do with what I am passionate about on any given day. It must be, because I don’t get paid to do this. And on average I spend 50-60 hours a week in one way or another on Saving Country Music, many times on things people never see. I have honestly probably spent 50-60 hours just on behind-the-scenes XXX scene control since it was announced.
Lastly I just want to give a huge thanks to all the readers. Your eyeballs on this site, and your ears listening to all the great stuff going down on SCM LIVE is what keeps me going. Some people have stuck through all the drama, some haven’t. And I hope the few that haven’t will give it another chance, and trust that we as a community can keep things more respectful, without drowning the fire and the wit and the passion that makes us all entertained and enlightened by reading what others have to say.
A couple of spanking new albums have just dropped that you should be abreast of.
The first is the long-awaited album from songstress Little Lisa Dixie. It seems like Little Lisa has been around forever, but this is her first serious, full-length, self-titled release on Another Mile Records.
You could say that her music could be found on a soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino or at the end of Natural Born Killers. You could say her music is good for drinking away working-class blues and smoking the loneliness right outta your heart. With her own twist on country music, one things for sure, she pours her heart and soul into every song.
Listen to previews below!
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It comes up in discussion often how many underground country bands are from the upper Midwest, and how many are NOT from the deep South. The Honky Tonk Hustlas are an exception, making their home South of Nashville with their new release.
The Honky Tonk Hustlas are a Montgomery, Alabama-based string band that blends traditional Southern roots with their own rowdy style of raw, outlaw country. They’ve got a down and dirty, old-school sound with a new, twisted philosophy and the skills to back it up.
Sorry I haven’t been blogging much lately. Been under the weather and busy, you know. I’m working on some great blogs in this upcoming week, but here’s a couple of quick things:
I had a BLAST last Thursday, hanging out in the chat room as the It Burns When I Pee podcast held a vidcast of their taping of the upcoming episode 24, scheduled to be released on Feb. 27th.
Glad to see a few of the other Free Hank III faithful there as well, and even Jahsh from Outlaw Radio was there IN PERSON. You can check out the recorded vidcast and all their previous vidcasts HERE.
IBWIP is the BEST monthly podcast and features REAL country music, great interviews, and lots of funny stuff. They’re also running a contest, for fans of the show to take pictures in their bathrooms. Here’s my entry:
Beat that bitches!
Reinstate Hank Video Contest:
Though there has only been two entries in the Reinstate Hank Video Contest , I haven’t given up hope yet. Hooter has supplied us with a big ol’ stack of webcams, so if you want one on loan to make a video, shoot me an email.
Here is an updated list of the booty:
–Mary Robbins CD, Jimmie Rodgers CD, and merch stickers from Rachel Brooke, Metal Farm Magazine, & The Honky Tonk Hustlas from me.
–Sealed, spanking new 4 CD Hank III Collector’s Edition from Hooter.
–Brand new DVD of Seven Signs from Cathy and Wayne.
–CD’s from the GREAT Brigitte London of Outlaw Magazine.
And a T Shirt from File 13 Clothing’s Rebel Rouser Line.
Pop country has corrupted the airwaves of our country, and everyday like a bad rash it spreads out across the landscape poisoning the minds of would-be country music fans. Perch a cowboy hat on top of pop, take some glamor shots, and with a pretty face and a passable voice you too may be able to make a million dollars wizzing on the traditions of the country’s music.
But up in the hills, down in the valleys, nestled by the watersides, and inspired by the greatness of the mountains and the vastness of the desert, REAL country music still lives in the hearts of us all that still believe in it.
And it also lives in the Honky Tonks. Not the ones with the strobe lights, thumping remixes, and guys with spiked bleached hair snorting cocaine off the back of the toilets. I’m talking about the ones with the dirty bathrooms. The ones that the smell of the place sticks in your clothes after you leave.
The Honky Tonk Hustlas are that real deal, hard working country band that we all crave. These three guys from the Hank Williams hometown of Montgomery, Alabama have a good, classic sound, and original songs with lyrics steeped in the sin of the south.
The band is made up of T Junior singin’ and pickin’, Stemp who plays the same upright bass that his granddad played back in the 50′s, and Grady who is a multi-instrumentalist and plays lead guitar and mandolin during shows
They sent me a copy of their CD Hallways of the Always.
I was immediately impressed with the effort they had put just in making the CD look good. That may seem superficial, but these dudes have put a lot of time and effort into promoting themselves, and I always like to see that kind of effort from a band.
I opened up the cover and was even more impressed to see the name of Andy Gibson in the credits. Hank III’s steel guitar player is also a home studio owner and operator, and I cease to be amazed where his name pops up, and wherever it does, you know it is attached to quality.
I asked The Hustlas about working with Andy, how they met him, etc:
“Well it was really chance getting to meet up with Andy. We’d been playing together for a little while, don’t really know how long (maybe a couple months), when we had the opportunity to play a show with Bob Wayne. The first time we played with Bob we were mainly doing some cover tunes of old country songs and maybe a couple of originals…. maybe, but a few months later we hooked back up with Bob and his crew for another show together.Since the last time we’d played a show with Bob we’d hit a creative streak, written a few songs and made a rough demo that we gave to Bob after the show. Bob seemed to dig what we were doing and said we needed to hook up with Andy and make a CD.
He told us he’d talk to Andy and give us a call about recording. We kinda figured that we might not hear anything back but sure as shit when Bob Wayne says something he damn sure means it. The next thing we knew we were heading up to Tennessee to cut a CD with Andy. Andy is 100% professional when it comes to recording and he knows how to get the work done when it gets down to the business of making a CD. He’s also one badass multi instrumentalist musician that could probably play the shit out of a rock if you could fit some strings on it. It was a good experience getting to work with Andy and we learned a lot about making an album just by watching him work his magic.”
Looking at The Hustlas calendar, I noticed that they not only have another date coming up with Bob Wayne, but they also will be playing with The .357 String Band, Joe Buck, and the The Misery Jackals.
“The main thing about us though is that we just fucking love playing country music, period. We do things our way and hopefully folks will dig what we’re doing cause it’s real and isn’t some shit made up for a soccer mom’s listening pleasure. If we was doing this to get rich we’d have given this gig up a long time ago but we play cause it’s in our blood and that’s what we love to do.”
The Honky Tonk Hustlas are the REAL DEAL for sure, so listen to em, add them on MySpace, and support them by buying their music or going to see them if they’re in your neck of the woods.
A couple of weeks back I made this video . . .
. . . in response to Outlaw Magazine’s call for supporters of the Reinstate Hank movement to make videos voicing your support. You can read in depth about how to do that by CLICKING HERE.
But unfortunately, no other videos but mine have been made.
SO to motivate the hellbilly nation, I’ve dug deep into the dusty and depressed Free Hank III coffers to assemble a PRIZE PACKAGE that you can win by making a video! Now this is not a beauty contest. I am not going to judge the videos. All you have to do is simply make one and that makes you eligible for the prize, the winner will be chosen randomly.
At the moment the prize includes 2 CD’s : One from the father of country music, The Essential Jimmie Rodgers, and Marty Robbins: Legendary Country Singers. That’s 45 tracks of solid country gold!
It will also come with merch stickers from my soulmate Rachel Brooke , the much underrated Honky Tonk Hustlas , and the greatness of Metal Farm Magazine. And who knows, some big name people might also be ponying up some more booty for the winner. Details coming.
Like I said in my previous blog about this, I completely understand that there are some people who do not have the means to make a video.
But it would be great if those that do would take a few minutes to do so. You don’t have to be cute, creative, or funny, you just have to speak what’s in your heart and mind. It being heartfelt and honest is the most important thing. Outlaw Magazine is only asking for two minutes. Even if you just give a few seconds, state your name and where you are from and that you support the movement, this gives the Grand Ole Opry a set of eyes, a unique distinguishable human face to look back at and answer why they continue to refuse to honor the legacy of the greatest, most important artist in country music history.
Maybe if you do not know how or do not have the gear to make a video, you could get help from a friend, family member, neighbor, whatever. A lot of digital cameras now have the capability of making short videos. And if you need help posting it on YouTube, contact me and will do it under my account.
And again, NOBODY should feel guilty if they can’t or just won’t make a video, but you can also participate by rating or making comments on my videos or hopefully the others to come. This will help increase visibility on YouTube, and hopefully encourage others to make videos.
Also just a reminder, if there are any bands that want me to review or promote their music, email me and I will send you my contact info. And if you send me stuff I will pass it along to readers as well to help promote you a second time around.
Andy Gibson is a living example of the essence of the modern Outlaw/Underground Country movement; that essence being an undying loyalty and respect for the traditions of country music, while forging new traditions from the enthusiasm of a new generation of REAL country music performers and fans.
As a studio musician, performer, and DIY studio owner, Andy Gibson’s impact cannot be understated, and his fingerprints are all over the music that acts as a counterbalance to the overproduced, unimaginative, and all too predictable modern Nashville sound that lacks the authenticity that made country music a relevant modern genre.
The magic of Andy Gibson is his versatility and his willingness to play whatever role is necessary to see that real country music happens.
As a musician, his signature instrument is the non-pedal, stand up steel guitar, and with ease, he can re-create a nostalgic-feeling tune from his legendary mentor Kayton Roberts, then turn around and belt out two breaks of screaming steel while staring at the back of Hank Williams III, and bring a mosh pit full of 20-somethings with tattoos to their knees. Andy also plays the dobro, as well as a little guitar, banjo, and mandolin.
As a performer, Andy Gibson has played and toured with such acts as Wayne “The Train” Hancock and Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies, but possibly his greatest contribution has been to the sound that has made Hank Williams III one of the leaders of the modern Outlaw Country movement. It is hard to imagine Hank III without the twang and wail bleeding and screaming from Andy’s Fender Dual Professional on stage right, or stimulating your country soul on recordings such as Smoke & Wine or Stoned & Alone.
Andy Gibson also runs a studio out of his home, and like a modern day Tompall Glaser, is helping REAL country music musicians record music that it true to the intentions of the songs and artists, and free of the limitations and creative vampires that haunt most modern studios, especially the ones within the influence of Nashville. Artists and bands that Andy has recorded include The .357 String Band, Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies, Black Eyed Vermillion, The Honky Tonk Hustlas, Rachel Brooke, and Moot Davis; not to mention helping Hank Williams III record his album Straight to Hell.
Andy Gibson is an excellent example of why the behind-the-scenes and sideman’s impact can never be overlooked. It is hard to envision the Outlaw/Underground country movement having such traction, enthusiasm, grass roots support, and class without the work of one Andy Gibson.
In fact if I had to describe Andy Gibson in one word, that would be it: Class.
Some Albums Andy Gibson Performs On or Recorded:
Hank III – Straight to Hell
Hank III – Damn Right, Rebel Proud
. 357 String Band – Fire & Hail
Moot Davis – Already Moved On