Yes, I went there. No, it’s not country. Yes, many of the early signs were bad. No, it’s not a great album. Yes, the only reason we’re even talking about this thing is because Sam Williams comes from the Hank Williams lineage, and since pedigree in country music—and with the Williams family especially—is such a strong indicator of quality, it’s owed at least a passing consideration, even if not much more.
The son of Hank Williams Jr. has been kicking around the music industry for a few years now, dabbling with some traditional country stuff, then moving in a much more contemporary direction, but overall just seeming to be trying to find himself. There were a lot of questions of where young Sam would take his music, and his first official full-length record from Mercury Nashville does little to answer those questions. In fact, it leaves one perhaps even more confused than before.
Don’t expect a chip off the old block. That much is for certain. And hey, Sam shouldn’t feel obligated to pursue some pure form of country music simply from a sense of fealty to his last name. He should follow his heart. That is what being a Williams is about, and what his father, grandfather, half sister Holly, and half brother Shelton Hank all did. And to be honest, the timbre of Sam’s voice probably just doesn’t fit in traditional country music, at least not firmly.
But you do have to find some sort of lane, or at least a cohesive expression to delineate yourself from the herd of new artists beyond riding off your famous last name. Sonically, Glasshouse Children is a genre-less mishmash of country, pop, hip-hop, and rock influences with little direction or unified expression to speak of. Some will tell you that’s the only way to truly be creative—to break free of the trappings of traditional genres. But if you can’t be categorized anywhere, you run the risk of being categorized nowhere, and that’s where this inconclusive album resides.
But don’t take this to mean Glasshouse Children is without merit, even if you don’t know where to catalog it on the music store shelf. Multiple tracks are quite well-written, while others work as songs autonomously from the concerns for the album itself, even if they’re decidedly outside of the appeal of country proper. “Glasshouse Children” and “Kids” speak to this sort of prism lifestyle of being an affluent kid of a famous family, and finding it hard to find your place in the world, to grow up, and connect with a common perspective on life. There’s a lot of self-awareness in the words to these songs.
“Can’t Fool Your Own Blood” could have been an excellent country song. But even the contemporary Americana production fails to hold back the powerful message the song conveys. The simple and short acoustic song “Bullleit Blues” also has a little something to it. And though “10-4” is total pop, you cycle through it enough, you’ll count it as a guilty pleasure. “The World: Alone” written for his late sister Katie who died tragically in a car accident is hard to not feel the power of.
Utilizing quality co-writers such as Dan Auerbach and Sean McConnell means that the songwriting of Glasshouse Children is surprisingly strong and developed. But working with multiple producers, including The Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston, Paul Moak, Sean McConnell, Bobby Holland, and “others,” it resulted in the complete lack of consistent direction in the styles of the songs. Even if Sam went 100% pop with a single producer, it still would have been a better result.
Meanwhile, some of the songs that veer toward ultra contemporary pop such as “Wild Girl” and “Hopeless Romanticism” will turn off large swaths of any built-in audience Sam’s last name may afford. Even his song with Dolly Parton called “Happy All The Time” complete with steel guitar accompaniment is too saccharine, too expressionless to make a quality argument for itself. Even the marketing and imagery for this album feel like it’s stretching for attention as opposed to representing Sam authentically.
Glasshouse Children is too good for pop, too bad for Americana, not really country in any way despite a few inflections here and there, and just leaves the listener a bit puzzled, despite the really good songs one will find when listening through the production. It just feels like Sam Williams still is searching to find himself. And in Nashville when signed to a major label is not necessarily the best forum to do that.