On his most recent album, The Rock: Stone Cold Country 2001, George Jones teams with Garth Brooks to sing a good old-fashioned drinking song called "Beer Run." It's about getting off work, jumping in the pickup truck and making a beeline for the liquor store -- pretty tame stuff, especially compared with some of the classic alcohol anthems of the past, songs like "There Stands the Glass," "Warm Red Wine" and "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink." Still, Jones's label felt compelled to add this precautionary message to the liner notes: "George Jones does not in any way condone drinking and driving, and the inclusion of the song 'Beer Run' is not an endorsement of such behavior. Historically, drinking songs have been an integral part of country music. George asks: If you drink, do so responsibly."
No such warning accompanies Lovesick, Broke and...Driftin', Hank Williams III's sophomore effort. In fact, the album is a veritable celebration of bad habits, including drinking, smoking, doping and fighting. According to the press notes, Hank III -- yes, he's Hank Williams's grandson, although his real name is Shelton Hank Williams -- "smokes a ton of pot and downs copious amounts of whiskey by the shot." (He probably drinks and drives, too, for all we know.) As his father, Hank Williams Jr., used to sing, "If I get stoned, I'm just carryin' on/An old family tradition."
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It was clear from Hank III's first disc, Risin' Outlaw, that the boy's got talent, not just good genes. He sings in a raw, twangy voice not unlike his grandfather's, and he even throws in an occasional yodel. (Pale and thin, he bears an eerie resemblance to Hank Sr.) But Risin' Outlaw was overproduced, and its songs, only two of which were written by Williams, didn't hold together well.
Lovesick, Broke and...Driftin' is much stronger. This time the sound is pure honky-tonk, with emphasis on the fiddle, steel guitar and dobro. It's obviously closer to Williams's heart, too, given that he wrote all of the songs but one, a surprisingly good hillbilly cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." To his credit, Williams -- unlike most of today's mainstream country singers -- doesn't shy away from songs about sin and salvation, but only one song on Driftin', "Callin' Your Name," falls into that category.
Mostly, Williams prefers to sing about raisin' hell ("Whiskey, Weed and Women," "Lovin' and Huggin'," "5 Shots of Whiskey"). "I'm a drinking, smoking, nighttime rambling kind of man," he boasts, knowing full well that he'll have to pay the price for his hard living. Sure enough, in "Broke, Lovesick and Driftin'," he's full of self-pity, moaning about how "I once had a good home, a wife to call my own/But now I'm here drunk and alone."
Lovesick, Broke and...Driftin' is about as unvarnished as country music gets these days. One listen and you'll probably find yourself heading for the nearest bar. But please, don't drink and drive.