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[whitespace] Hank Williams III Hank Williams III continues a family tradition.

Hanky Panky

Hank Williams III and Jill Olson make authentic music for the masses

By Gina Arnold

YOU KNOW what I love about life? Its occasional bouts of synchronicity. Like how, for some reason, whenever I go to Hawaii (about once every five years for the past two decades) I hear the song "I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash on the radio somewhere between the airport and the Pali Highway. Of course, it could just be that Hawaiian radio stations have played that song daily for the past 20 years, but I prefer to believe that there is something stranger and more personal going on.

I haven't been to Hawaii in a while, but another example of synchronicity occurred the other day when I was over at a friend's house. I had brought along the new CD by Hank 3--that's Hank Williams III--to play, and I wasn't sure how to switch the tuner from radio to CD. It seemed almost impossible, and I was getting totally mixed up--until I realized that the radio station was actually playing a tune by Hank 3. And to make matters even more confusing, one of the CDs in my friend's five-CD changer was by Hank I (that is, Hank Sr.).

I couldn't help but think that this confluence of Hank-ness meant something in the scheme of things, but God knows what, since a popular Hank Williams revival (of either I, II or III) is not really on the cards. Hank 3, who sounds way more like Grandpa Williams than like Dad Williams, is considered by some to be a new presence on the rock scene. I doubt he'll make it big; despite his pedigree, he is, from a radio perspective, sort of fishy. He often gets pitched as a punk-rock, alt-rock kind of guy, but it's real hard to hear the Clash influence in a song like "7 Months and 39 Days" or even "Trashville" (which features ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons) on his new CD, Lovesick Broke and Driftin'.

He doesn't have the crossover appeal of Chris Isaak--or even Steve Earle--and his bad-boy persona (he's covered in tattoos, and most of his songs are about getting drunk or worse) is more about being a redneck than a rebel. That said, the guy sure sounds for real. And Lovesick Broke & Driftin' is an excellent record for those who like their country music to sound authentic--even if it was recorded digitally and in the 21st century.

Another equally "for real" artist is Jill Olson, the bespectacled singer, bassist and songwriter for the band Red Meat. Jill has a new CD titled My Best Yesterday (to be released late this month), which ought to delineate her further from her funny cohorts in Red Meat. Jill is essentially an urban person, but her taste runs to the music of Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn (not the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill), and her songs sound like it. My favorites are the Truman Capote/Nanci Griffith- influenced "Other Voices, Other Rooms" and "Leavenworth," in which she writes about living on the corner of Leavenworth and Ellis in the Tenderloin, an apartment site that sounds a lot more depressing than it really was.

Despite a preponderance of songs about heartache, Jill's music is strangely lighthearted. Indeed, sometimes I think she suffers from an excess of cheerfulness. She's not one of those painful waifs who sing slow songs in a minor key. She's not theatrical or maudlin, self-pitying or self-destructive. Although most of the women I know are way more like Jill than like Tori Amos or Shirley Manson, I guess they don't want to hear songs sung by girls like them about aspects of their own existence. To my mind, Jill can write circles around Sheryl Crow, but like Hank 3, she insists on a kind of sonic authenticity.

On her CD jacket, Olson writes, "I hope these pop tunes remind you of the sounds that might have blasted from the radio of a brand-new 1966 Ford Ranchero, way back before you were born." That idea--that you can make something new that sounds old but at the same time has some relevance--is particularly attractive to me as pop music becomes more and more bland. Bluegrass as pop music? Maybe, with the preponderance of cover bands and classic rock and golden oldies on the radio, that's the way it's going to go.

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From the May 16-22, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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