I spend way too much time bitching about the current state of Country Music. And I spend too much time bitching about the fact that I'm bitching about the current state of Country music. Might be a good idea for me to just sit back and enjoy the good shit that's out there. And there are some mighty tasty platters spinning on the modern hi-fi.
Willie Heath Neal often gets compared to Hank Williams III, having more to do with their relative youthfulness and a tendency towards, ahem, wayward rebelliousness, than in actual style. On earlier albums, Neal did display the tendency towards the sort of self-referential shit-kicker vibe that Williams has perfected, for better or worse, but one always got the sense that Neal traded more in respect for the form than in lineage.
With his latest album, Lonesome, on Chicken Ranch Records, Neal drops any alt/cowpunk leanings and delivers a hell of a set of barroom ballads. Yeah, I said ballads...wait, come back...it's not what you think. We aint talkin' no pansy-ass metal balladry or vile Michael Bolton shite. Great Country has always been about the slow burning examination of where did I go wrong, how did I fuck up so badly, and what can I drink to make it better? It's the bread and butter of the genre. It's also a focus on great songwriting, and Neal steps to the plate, compiling a string of lost love and missed opportunity under the strobe of blinking neon lights. He shows himself as a songwriter, and a damn good one. I'd recommend checking out Neal's other albums. They're teetering, whiskey-fuelled honky stompers, and a hell of a lot of fun. But it's Lonesome that shows Neal growing up, and finding a voice that pushes him toward greatness. 'Least so far as we're concerned. But what the hell do I know?
I've rambled on about James Hand at length, and, frankly, it probably hasn't been enough. Leastways, not 'til I see him on the cover of every damn magazine on the planet. With Willie Heath Neal, we've got a younger version. Neal's not at Hand's level yet, but he's on his way, and I'd give a lung to see the two tour together.
Keep sending those drinking songs!
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