By now, invoking the name of country music's most hallowed son, Hank Williams, is a surefire way to either establish your honky-tonk bonafides (if you're good), or splatter egg all over your face (if you're not). This impulse to situate oneself within country music's grand lineage using ol' Hank's ghost as a springboard is nothing new; his own friends name-checked him aplenty, and Hank's own son, Hank Williams Jr. (or Bocephus, if you're of a certain age) turned it into sort of ham-fisted art form. For better or worse, the eternally 29-year-old's name has become shorthand for "old school," for "pure country," and for "the way things were back in the day"
However, on Texas-raised, Denver-based traditional country singer Leslie Tom's new album, Ain't It Something, Hank Williams (her first in 12 years), she draws upon the memory and music of Hank Williams in a way that feels refreshing and new. Her debut LP dropped in 2006. and was followed by two shorter EPs; she's currently running a PledgeMusic pre-order campaign for the new album, that promises to donate a portion of the pre-sales to Eli's Fund, a nonprofit run by the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Ain't It Something, Hank Williams may have a heart of gold, but to hear Tom sing it, that heart has also been to hell and back.
A couple of Hank's classics make an appearance on the album alongside Toms' own chronicles of love and loss. A jaunty, heartfelt cover of "Hey Good Lookin" and a sedate, Bakersfield-tinged rendition of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” flow seamlessly into her appealingly twangy, high-spirited originals, some of which took shape with the help of veteran songwriters Sean Gasaway and Michael Chotiner (the latter of whom penned the album's loping title track). This is the kind of modern-but-not country that artists like Margo Price, Angaleena Presley, and Whitey Morgan peddle—born in a honky-tonk, aged in a bourbon barrel, steeped in history, but driven by fresh ideas and the drive to succeed in a world far removed from the outlaw years. When Leslie Tom sings over a shambling two-step about being "Born to Late" to have sung with Hank, she speaks for every modern country singer who feels both burdened and inspired by the genre's rich past (an overarching sentiment that doom titans Saint Vitus might also appreciate).
"Obviously, Hank Williams was the most influence on the project but so was his wife, Audrey along with my life and some of the experiences I have had being in the music business for the past fourteen years," Leslie Tom explains in a statement. "I normally don't like including songs written by other songwriters (not including a few covers we've done over the past few years) so it was a different approach we decided to take including songs by Sean Gasaway and Michael Chotiner. The goal was not for me to co-write every song on this record that wasn't a Hank Williams tune, but rather to include songs that fit into the concept of Hank Williams while honoring his legacy. Suffice it to say, goal accomplished!"
Seeing "Angel of Death" on the track list gave me momentary hope of a Slayer cover, but instead, this turned out to be Tom's "Long Black Veil;" her voice dips down into a huskier register, the steel guitar weeps along, and death blooms around her. Leslie Tom is no angel, honky-tonk or otherwise, but I daresay that the power of her voice is most apparent when she slows things down, tones down the boot-scoot, and dips deep into her own wells of sorrow. That's how Hank done it, anyway.
Ain’t It Something, Hank Williams is out March 23 on Coastal Bend Music. Listen to the album below!
Catch Leslie on the Hanky Panky tour later this month:
Wed, Mar 21 @ 9:00PM The White Horse, 500 Comal Street, Austin, TX
Thu, Mar 22 @ 7:30PM 5D Grill & Lounge, 130 Boardwalk, Kenedy, TX
Sat, Mar 24 @ 10:00AM Eisenhower Park, 19399 NW Military Hwy, San Antonio, TX Sat, Mar 24 @ 8:40PM Calvary Court Hotel, 200 Century Ct, College Station, TX Sat, Apr 7 @ 8:00PM American Legion Post 82, 3204 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN Tue, Apr 10 @ 8:00PM American Legion Post 82, 3204 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN Thu, Apr 12 @ 7:30PM The Ledford House, 174 West Highway 334, Oxford, MS
Fri, Apr 13 @ 9:00PM Alabama’s Little Bit of Texas, 38 Kowaliga Road, Eclectic, AL Sat, Apr 14 @ 11:00AM Hank Williams Museum, 118 Commerce St, Montgomery, AL Sat, Apr 14 @ 7:30PM American Legion Post 62, South Pittsburgh, TN
Thu, Jun 7 @ 6:00PM Flying Horse, 13509 Silverton Road, Colorado Springs, CO
Kim Kelly is so lonesome she could cry on Twitter.