Review: Honky Tonk Hustlas- South of Nashville
Located way south of Nashville, both geographically and musically, Alabama’s Honky Tonk Hustlas is the type of band who knows how to keep tradition alive without being stuck in the past. Led by guitarist and vocalist T. Junior and making great use of the upright bass and fiddle, they have a sound that is heavily influenced by the classic barroom country of the ’50s, but at the same time there are elements of their lyrical approach and energetic nature that has more in common with punk rock. I’ve heard some compare them to Hank III (perhaps because steel and dobro player Andy Gibson has worked with both) and while there are certain similarities, these guys are their own band and have their own style that is more traditional, more personal, and often much darker than anything III has done to date.
On their second self-released album South of Nashville, Honky Tonk Hustlas deliver the type of country music that has been MIA from the airwaves for years but continues to live on with the artists and fans who know where to look. This is the kind of album that would serve as a perfect soundtrack for a night of partying and having a good time, but when listened to the morning after harshly exposes the dark side of that lifestyle. Take for instance the third track, “My Worst Enemy,” where T. Junior sings that “If I don’t change my ways the next dead man will be me.” Even darker is “Pray I Won’t Wake Up,” a chilling tale of suicide that represents this band at their very best.
But it’s not all quite that dreary, as they deliver more traditionally-minded jukebox ballads like “You Were the One,” as well as classic Tennessee Two-styled numbers such as “Don’t Hold Me Down.” The two best songs here, though, are “Don’t Give a Damn” and “Corporate Man,” which could almost be seen as anthems for the South and the working class in general. While “Don’t Give a Damn” is directed squarely at critics of the band and their hard-edged style, “Corporate Man” is exactly the type of tune that Woody Guthrie or Ronnie Van Zant would write if they were here today: an angry song that is more about morals and ethics than politics and doesn’t pull any punches in exposing the bad guys.
To keep this short, this record is straightforward, honest good old-fashioned country music with no strings attached, no fancy studio tricks and no polish added. Honky Tonk Hustlas are the type of band that you want to hear down at your local bar this weekend, but with the corporate-run war on good taste, the advent of karaoke, the word “indie” becoming a euphemism for something else entirely, and other similar developments, chances are that won’t happen. So I guess that for now this album is the next best thing.