Hank Williams III getting sprung from his former label to record independently is mostly a good thing. I say mostly because, while his newfound freedom allows him to record the kind of music he never could under his former label, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will be good. The idea of Hank releasing a bad album was once unthinkable. Well, there's this. 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin'
is one of four new albums Hank released independently in 2011. His other albums focus on more traditional songwriting, like the country albums Ghost to a Ghost
and Gutter Town
, which have appearances by collaborators like Les Claypool
and Tom Waits
. Then there's Attention Deficit Domination
, which focuses on Hank's metal side. And then there's this.
3 Bar Ranch
is called "Cattlecore". Basically, what it consists of is Hank's metal band shredding riffs over the sound of auctioneers, cattle, etc. It starts off kind of cool sounding, but you're bound to get bored if you try to listen to it in one uninterrupted sitting. This strange album really sounds like the kind of thing Hank should have released as a joke to get out of his Curb contract. As an independent release on his own label, one can determine that it's either a really misguided attempt at an avantgarde concept album, or Hank's straight up trolling his fans. I'd concede the latter. Using metal in the context of actual songs is one thing, but this is quite another.
One of the problems with 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin'
is that a lot of the stuff on here kind of blends together as the result of being so similar-sounding. I can say one thing for the music on here: the riffing is awesome. There is some great music in this mess. However, there are points when the same track is clearly repeated with a different auctioneer voice laid over it, or Hank singing lyrics we can't hear or shouting/screeching, down the line. Hell, I think there are repeated auctioneer vocal tracks with different metal backings, for good measure.
The repetition suggests that no one thought that anyone would actually listen to this from start to finish, as if every listener would straight up shut the album off after a certain number of auctioneer-laden speed metal, giving credence to the idea that this album is a practical joke that Hank was playing on his listeners. Thing is, it's not a very funny one. Lou Reed
's Metal Machine Music
was funny, because no one in their right minds would listen to it all the way through. 3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin'
is a better album than the Reed album. It has actual notes and playing.
Some of the best moments on this album occur when the auctioneer stuff is pushed to the back. There are points where we can hardly hear the auctioneer voices, and they're great. The best tracks on the album -- "Countin Cows", "Square Bailor", "Moo You" and "Branded" -- work because they're just straight up metal tracks, and the whole cattle callin' thing isn't the focus. Either the cattle callin' is gone, or it's not as prominent as in most of the tracks. Hank's weird ass metal singing sounds cool, and it's not an auctioneer rolling off prices in year ear at a mile a minute.
If the whole album was done in a more traditional style, it would be great. There's some excellent riffage on this album. Parts of it actually rock. But the cattle callin' format brings the album down and is incomprehensible to nearly all metal listeners. It just seems like the kind of idea Hank and his band came up with when they were stoned and decided for some inexplicable reason to roll with it before anyone told them that it was a bad idea. In spurts, it's a weird listen with some great playing, but as an entire album of this style, it doesn't work.