Why on earth would you want to do a whole album of Hank Williams covers? What could you possibly add to those iconic songs that could be better than the originals? OK, maybe you could completely reinvent them like Bryin Dall and Derek Rush did on their absolutely chilling Deconstructing Hank, transposing everything into a minor key and adding a layer of sepulchral atmospherics on top.
Or you could rip the hell out of them like George Thorogood did back when he was actually good. Girls Guns and Glory bravely tackle the challenge of amping up the songs while hanging onto a retro sensibility on their new album of Hank covers, most of which is streaming online. And it’s a rousing and improbable success. The Boston band recorded it on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at hometown venue the Lizard Lounge in tribute to the last two shows he never got to play (he died in the back of that white Cadillac on January 1, 1953). The four-piece group – frontman Ward Hayden on guitar, Chris Hersch on lead guitar and banjo, Paul Dilley on bass and piano and Josh Kiggans on drums – are currently on East Coast tour, and would almost assuredly be making at stop at Rodeo Bar if it was still open. This time around they’ll be at the big room at the Rockwood on Feb 26 at 8 PM – kind of sad to see how the Rodeo scene has been dispersed, hasn’t it?
Most of the songs are pretty obvious choices, and they’re more bittersweet than sad. Hersch is the star of the show here: he spices Moanin’ the Blues with a nimble Chuck Berry-style solo as Hayden alternates between a high lonesome wail and a more exuberant bar-band delivery. Likewise, Hersch’s keening slide work soars over fiddler Jason Anick’s spare, oldschool lines on Hey Good Lookin. And an unexpected rampage down the fretboard steals the show from Miss Tess and Della Mae‘s Celia Woodsmith, who add exuberant harmonies on an otherwise straight-ahead take of Move It on Over. They do the same a bit later, on My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.
The two Americana songstresses also lend their voices to a steady, wistful take of Your Cheatin’ Heart, then the band gives So Lonesome I Could Cry an almost stalking, swaying, suspenseful groove. Honkytonk Blues is yet another showcase for Hersch’s uncanny ability to impersonate a pedal steel.
Rockin’ Chair Money is an unexpected choice, and a good one: the hypnotic, jangly, resonant sway absolutely nails Hank’s understated desperation. Anick’s wild spiraling on I Saw the Light is arguably the album’s most exhilarating moment. There’s also a more-or-less obligatory version of Jambalaya; a liquored-up take of Dear John where everybody gamely takes a turn on vocals despite there being no mic in back with the drums; and a stark, vividly elegaic bonus version of Old Log Train with Lake Street Dive’s Mike Calabrese on bass.