I spend a lot of time talking about abrasive music on this website, though I did not grow up listening to such things. My younger years were spent with classic rock radio, where I harbored a disdain towards anything that was harsh. That slowly started to change when I was in college, as I began to branch away from late 60s rock. In my junior and senior years, I was engrossed with punk rock and alternative country. I appreciated how many artists in those genres were willing to experiment with sounds outside of the norm. In the realm of alternative country, I found bands like O’Death who were injecting darker and more unhinged elements into folk and country music. My delving into alternative country eventually led me to Hank III, the grandson of the legendary country singer/songwriter Hank Williams, Sr. Hank III’s music is an interesting mixture of traditional country in the vein of his grandfather and hard rock, punk, and metal. The first metal show I ever attended was a Hank III show in 2009 at the now defunct Chameleon Club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the first half of the set, Hank III had an acoustic guitar and played his traditional country music. He then let his hair down and replaced his acoustic with an electric guitar and launched into his hard rock songs (a style he prefers to call Hellbilly) followed by his thrash metal/death metal songs (with a band called Assjack). It was fascinating to see so many distinct musical genres on display at one show, and sometimes within a single song. It has now been approximately 9 years since Hank III has released any new music, but fortunately for us, Hank III has a son named Coleman Williams, and he released an album this year!
Coleman Williams releases music under the moniker of “IV”, a clear homage to his musical legacy as a Williams. Simply by being a fourth generation of one of the most iconic individuals in country music, the expectations were always going to be high for Coleman. Assumptions would be made about the sort of music he was going to play. To push against this, Coleman did not go into music right away (though he spent his youth playing in punk and metal bands and writing country songs on the side). He went to college to study literature, and spent time teaching. Part of the drive to study literature was to help him evolve as a songwriter and to focus on the importance of wordplay. Now, at 30 years old (Hank Williams, Sr died at 29) Coleman has released his first collection of songs as IV and The Strange Band, titled Southern Circus. Like his father’s work, Coleman takes the framework of country music and injects it with elements from the punk and metal world. Fortunately, the songs on the record feel distinctly his own, not just something you might find on a Hank III record. There is a real variety on the record including fingerpicked acoustic numbers to banjo-led punk rock songs, one of which ends with a sludgy doom metal segment that blends in perfectly.
My favorite track on Southern Circus has changed multiple times over the past few months listening to the record, so it has been hard to pick one to talk about for this post. In the end, I decided on the opening track of the album, a song called “Train.” It is a restrained folk song with acoustic guitar and the beamish plucks of a banjo. In it, Coleman sings of his experiences hitching rides on freight trains with an air of wistfulness, though never in a way to glorify the practice. The song is a fairly simple one, but one that has left a lasting impression upon me, certainly helped by the earnestness in Coleman’s voice.
If you have any interest in country music, or even punk and metal, you should give Coleman Williams music a listen. Southern Circus is one of my favorite records I have heard this year!
Buy Southern Circus here.