Despite an overall lack of major media coverage, a sonic storm named Shelton Williams, better known as Hank Williams III, has been sweeping the country now for ten years with his brand of traditional-country-mixed-with-punk-rock music he fondly refers to as “hellbilly.” Or, as his long-time bassist Joe Buck says in one of the songs on Joe Buck Yourself, his first official solo release, “hillbilly pride is going nationwide.”
Yet, one shouldn’t expect to hear Williams’ brand of “hellbilly” from a solo Joe Buck, who at one time was also a guitarist for The Legendary Shackshakers. The third-generation artist’s country sound, despite its recklessness and attitude, still mostly resembles the musical style of his grandfather. The sound of Joe Buck Yourself resembles, well, the fans that stand up front at Williams’ live shows. Not the strictly country crowd… they tend to hang towards the back of the place. He sounds like the hardcore fans who are itching throughout the entire country portion of the show to get the mosh pit going during Hank’s death metal second-half. Joe Buck’s music is dark, loud, and raw, and a constant sense of impending doom surrounds the entire record. Basically, this is the kind of music you’d expect to be on The Boogeyman’s iPod. After all, as Buck puts it in song, like every child’s legendary worst nightmare, he was “Born to Scare.” And like any great ghost story, it’s not only scary… it’s a damn good time!
Joe Buck establishes this reaper-like presence on Joe Buck Yourself in a couple of ways. The first way the multi-instrumentalist pulls it off is through the music itself. When he isn’t touring with Hank III, Buck hits the road solo as a one-man-band. It is appropriate, then, that most of the tracks on the record feature only a guitar and kick-drum. To those who don’t think such a stripped-down sound would create a very large musical impact, think again. This album is LOUD. Buck is pounds away on his guitar strings with a drummer’s force on each edgy, death-filled number, and the bass-drum beat seems to represent a soon-to-be victim’s increasingly loud heartbeat as the killer approaches. Add his creepy, creaky vocals to the mix and it becomes obvious to listeners that Joe Buck, like a great horror writer, knows how to build a mood in his work, and that he is certainly a solid musician with the ability to pull it off in superb fashion.
Adding to the musical damnation of Joe Buck Yourself is Buck’s appropriately written lyrics. Are they simple? Sure. Buck’s no Bob Dylan, but he didn’t need to be. All he needed to do with his lyrics to support his musical design was convince listeners that he could be as evil as his guitar made him seem. He certainly succeeds, as the album’s secret-agent-rocker-from-hell highlight, “Evil Motherfucker from Tennessee,” accomplishes this feat all by itself. Throughout the rest of the record, Joe Buck continues to build his horror-film villain persona. The self-anointed “Hillbilly Speedball” tells listeners that he and his hate are not even of this world in the song “Planet Seeth.” He “Took Up with the Devil” at a young age, and as he says in the dark, swamp blues song “I Will Survive,” he took his chances and made it through his personal hell. Now, he “wants revenge” against all those who crossed him. He asks all listeners if they “are his enemies,” and to those who are, Buck promises that he’ll “Dig a Hole” for each of them. And as if that isn’t a scary enough proposition, he also lets his enemies know in another album highlight that “The Devil is on His Way” as well. While Buck’s musical persona knows his anger will “lead him to an early grave,” as he states in the album’s only intermission from the evil, “Bitter is the Day,” it appears as though he has accepted it, making the story of Joe Buck Yourself slightly tragic, and even more captivating.
So how does such an album show that “hillbilly pride” is going nationwide? Well, obviously, there are another brand of hillbillies out there. This kind of hillbilly is no urban cowboy. His girl doesn’t think your tractor is sexy. And neither are interested in a day at the rodeo. No, these hillbillies seem to come from the modern-times Flannery O’Connor south. They’re loud, they’re angry, and they’re not about to let anyone get the best of them. Joe Buck’s debut album is for this kind of hillbilly. If you’re expecting a radio-friendly, easy-listening album, stay away. Hell, even if you’re expecting a country record, stay away. But if you want a hard, twangy, demon-fueled, punk-fused album that’ll rip your heart from your chest and use it as a yo-yo while you lay dying, buy Joe Buck Yourself. It’s a scary-good time you’ll want to experience over and over again.