Free at last, free at last, thanks God almighty, he is free at last. After years of self-proclaimed indentured servitude to Mike Curb - a period that saw III hawking F*** Curb T-shirts at his shows and encouraging fans to download his albums for free - Hank III has finally shed his contractual obligations to the man and label that reined in his diversity and vision over the past decade. In other words, III is now legally doing all the things that he's done for years in middle-finger defiance of his Curb contract.
As usual, III isn't doing things halfway as he celebrates the end of his Curb sentence; his first act of self-reliance is to release four albums simultaneously, a foursome that accurately showcases his amazing range, from the sludgy doom metal of "Attention Deficit Domination," to the howling mad metallic twangcore of "3 Bar Ranch Cattle Callin'" to the mixed bag of the double release of "Ghost to a Ghost" and "Gutter Town." The latter is an impressive artistic achievement and an ambitious conceptual work - featuring guest appearances from Primus' Les Claypool and Tom Waits - but unlikely to appeal to straight country fans, which is a shame since III is one of the few contemporary country singers who understands both the genre's past heritage and future potential.
And although there are clearly moments on "Ghost to a Ghost" when III takes broad liberties within the context of the genre, for the most part it is the most traditional country work in his expansive catalog. From the high-stepping honky tonk of Gutter Town - featuring III's typical lyrical honesty; "Looking high and looking low, I guess I'm one of those lost souls who just don't fit in no more..." - to the outlaw country rock of Day by Day to the shimmery Skynyrd/Marshall Tucker balladry of The Devil's Movin' In. At the same time, III pushes the country envelope with the blistering gypsy country prog of Riding the Wave, the foul-mouthed but totally spot-on Don't Ya Wanna, the snake-charming cantina rock of Time to Die and the sonic style collage of the title track. It may not be every country fan's cup of mescaline tea but "Ghost to a Ghost" is a potent shot of Hank III's boundless musical ambition and a mere hint at where he's headed next.