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Short Takes

SHORT TAKES | New Hank Williams Jr. album recalls Thunderhead Hawkins blues persona

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Short Takes 1 Hank Williams Jr

MUSIC NOTES: Williams refers to his blues man pseudonym, Thunderhead Hawkins, on his latest album, “Rich White Honky Blues.”

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Tom Netherland

The Kruger Brothers

Jans and Uwe Kruger classify as a pair of modern-day Magellans. With music exploration as their forte, The Kruger Brothers find ways to make American bluegrass blend with such sounds as classical and jazz.

Remarkable in scope and style, The Kruger Brothers’ compass finds The Cameo and downtown Bristol Saturday, June 25. European brothers whose expeditions in music include Appalachia, they’re accompanied by bassist Joel Landsberg.

Uwe Kruger sings lead and plays guitar. Jans Kruger chimse in on banjo. Altogether, The Kruger Brothers’ mastery of music bridges ages-old connectivity between ever-pliable folk music and whatever appeals to their senses. They’re renaissance men of music, adroit instrumentalists whose albums including “Roan Mountain Suite,” a collaboration with Kontras Quartet, brand as revelatory.

Pop Evil

Check the pulse of Pop Evil. The veteran rockers pump lifeblood rock that oozes hot lava.

Whomever proclaimed the death of rock ‘n’ roll overlooked the lively corpses in Pop Evil. As evidenced on their Vortex Tour, which digs in at Capone’s in Johnson City Tuesday, June 28, Pop Evil burst with an undeniably loudness for life.

Incendiary blue-collar rock brands the Michiganders in Pop Evil. New material “Survivor” and “Inferno” aligns with the band’s mainstream rock chart-toppers including “Walking Lions” and “Torn to Pieces.” Melodic to their core, Pop Evil marry hooky keys and chords with lyrics that beguile.

Appalachian Trail

Salve and salvation meet in the middle to form Appalachian Trail.

Led by Vickie and Tommy Austin, the venerable bluegrass band returns to the historic Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, Saturday, June 25. A five-member band of balladeers, Appalachian Trail provide songs of and from the Appalachians. They’re like well-buttered cornbread: one serving prompts hunger for more.

Appalachian Trail dates back to 1984. Based in Kingsport, they’re neither Jimmy Martin-like barnstormers nor as edgy progressive as New Grass Revival. Instead, Appalachian Trail resonates best upon high ridges of vocal harmonies. Given a Sunday morning gospel tune or perhaps Merle Haggard’s “I’m Always on a Mountain When I Fall,” Appalachian Trail meanders from the woebegone to the redemptive with equal parts skill and substance.

Music Notes

A gold record arrived in the mail last week. From within its carboard container, Hank Williams Jr. bounded like one whose cage has held him for far too long.

It recalled a long conversation aboard his bus more than a decade ago. Williams sat in his idling ride, and chatted about his legendary career as one of country music’s most successful tastemakers of all-time.

But then he leaned in close, smoke from his cigar haloing his cowboy-hat clad head. He removed his trademark dark glasses. And his hat. His eyes penetrated from about a foot away.

“One of these days,” Williams said, “you’re going to see the real Hank Williams Jr.”

Now a Country Music Hall of Fame member, Williams referred to his blues man pseudonym, Thunderhead Hawkins. He’s gone the blues route on occasion, including a dip with 1966’ “Blues My Name.” In 1984’s “Major Moves” LP, Williams collaborated with blues pioneer John Lee Hooker. More recently, he introduced his Thunderhead Hawkins persona on 2002’s treasure “Almeria Club.”

With his latest album, the illuminating “Rich White Honky Blues” on Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label, Williams unveils Thunderhead Hawkins in full blues regalia. Backed by a blues-righteous band that includes the late R.L. Burnside’s guitarist extraordinaire Kenny Brown, Williams shines like the blues long before sunrise.

“I hope you got all of that,” Williams said at the completion of the album’s first song, a spellbinding take on Robert Johnson’s “.44 Special Blues.”

Thunderhead’s legit. Blistering runs through Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance” and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “My Starter Won’t Start” alone warrant necks to crane and jaws to scrape.

Williams’ personality, higher than Willie Nelson in a patch of green, permeates “Rich White Honky Blues.” For instance, he’s boundless on his own “Call Me Thunderhead.” Organ grinder bump and thump blues, it’s richly declarative and sumptuously sinewy in all its wondrous machinations.

“You just wait and see,” Williams said moments before he alighted from his bus to perform in Richmond, Virginia. “Thunderhead’s coming, brother.”

He arrived last Friday. Hank Williams Jr. as Thunderhead Hawkins steps inside juke joint blues on “Rich White Honky Blues” for a romp that’s as raw and real as a howl in the lonesome moonlight.

Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors offer eight favorites in this week’s free MP3 downloads. Sidle over to Find “Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors: Collection,” with such resonant standbys as “Tennessee” and the moving “American Beauty.”

Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at


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