Hank Williams Jr.

Almeria Club (Curb Records)

The events of Sept. 11 may have been so overwhelmingly public that it's impossible to turn out personal reactions to them. Virtually every response that seems believable will by necessity be shared by millions of others. It's little wonder, then, that whether a performer aims for Hallmark sentimentality (Paul McCartney's "Freedom") or a made-for-TV level of specificity (Neil Young's as-yet-unheard "Let's Roll"), the musical artists who have rushed to release post-traumatic pop songs have found themselves stuck in cliché.

Hank Williams Jr. invests "America Will Survive," the last track on Almeria Club, with more than just the jingoistic familiarity of his call for "a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye" or the proud claim of the song's title. Sometime after Sept. 11 and the release of what may be the best album he's ever made, ol' Hank rewrote a rebel anthem called "A Country Boy Will Survive" into something intended to put fear in the hearts of al Qaeda. Yes, it serves its purpose of rallying the already rallied, but it also stands as the weirdest salute to America anybody's ever written: "We say grace and we say ma'am/If they don't like that, we don't give a damn." Elsewhere, Hank redefines patriotism in terms of the pleasure principle: "What we got here is freedom and fun." The regressive politics don't end there, alas: Three blues songs all but wear blackface, with Hank assuming the identity and stereotypical accent of the imaginary Thunderhead Hawkins. "Big Top Women" is a tribute to the bra-busting bosoms of female court workers and strippers. (In Hank Jr.'s world, courthouses are the best place to ogle big-breasted women.)

It's a shame to dwell on these mishaps, because the rest of the record is so good. Williams probably intends the blues songs as tributes to a lifelong influence and the sex songs as pro-woman compliments. (It's also quite touching how many references he makes to the thrills his wife brings him in this regard). He's assembled a crack band of Muscle Shoals session veterans, and the album sparkles with country and R&B flavorings. Almeria Club is a joyous demonstration of one man's desire to fit his unique observations into the forms of his country's musical treasures. That's actually as good a reason as any to believe America will survive.

 
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