Never one to back down from expressing his opinion, Hank Jr. has a lot to say after his controversial Fox and Friends appearance in October 2011 and the subsequent end of his long-running relationship with ESPN’s Monday Night Football. On Old School, New Rules, Hank Jr.’s new project due in stores July 10, the 63-year-old country music icon wastes no time getting straight to the point as he offers his take on the events from last fall and the current state of the country.
The album, which is the first under Hank Jr.’s own Bocephus Records (in partnership with Blaster Entertainment), opens with the line, I’ll go find a network wants to treat me right, before adding with a hardline stance, Don’t tread on me. The song, “Takin’ Back the Country,” with its classic Hank Jr. rhythm section stomp, is a fiery romp speaking out on foreclosures, the Environmental Protection Agency and other hot button issues including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for their lack of privacy, and President Obama for his policies. It’s a defiant opening and much of the album follows suit.
Old School, New Rules might be Hank Jr.’s most overtly political release to date. Songs like “We Don’t Apologize for America,” featuring a ’70s-style country bounce, reflects on the young men and women of the Armed Forces before telling “America haters” to move to Mexico. “Keep the Change” defends personal liberties over a snarling slide guitar that matches his vocal delivery, especially when he asks how the “United Socialist States of America” sounds. Like he says with smoldering contempt on his current single “That Ain’t Good,” Hank Jr’s, kind of mad at someone that thinks they can tell [him] what to say and do.
Though over half the songs on Old School, New Rules touch on political issues, Hank Jr. does take opportunities to lighten it up. Brad Paisley and Merle Haggard guest on a pair of drinking songs, cutting loose from the heavier themes that dominate the record. The latter is a duet on Merle’s classic “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” while Brad trades off verses and adds some of his patented virtuoso “twanguitar” on “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams.” Name-checking Hank Williams Sr. classics like “Lovesick Blues” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Hank Jr. and Brad serve up one of the album’s highlights that plays out like a revamped version of “Family Tradition.”
One of the album’s most striking moments comes at the midway point where Hank covers one of his father’s signature songs, “You Win Again,” reaching a dark territory of the heart. Recalling the fierce yet vulnerable complexity of Waylon Jennings, this tour de force ably calls upon gutter-drenched distortion, swampy resonator guitar and rumbling percussion to give life to the swirling and intense emotions surrounding a cheating woman – that he happens to still love. The helplessness steaming from the line, I love you still / Guess I always will / You win again, is palpable.
Old School, New Rules gives voice to Hank Jr.’s feelings and serves as a cathartic release for the singer that is sure to resonate with a large portion of the population. While it is most certainly political and at times angry, songs like the nostalgic title-track offer a glimpse at the man behind the tough statements; a man who wears his “Old School” badge with pride.
Key Tracks – “You Win Again,” “I’m Gonna Get Drunk and Play Hank Williams,” “That Ain’t Good,” “Old School”