Buzz Cason,
Hats Off to Hank
(Palo Duro, 2007)

A title like Hats Off to Hank naturally leads the prospective listener to anticipate the sort of honkytonk wail that Hank Williams practically patented. Though "Hats" is the title song, this is not, in fact, a particularly country record.

A songwriter, performer, producer and all-around music-business professional who's been around since the latter 1950s and the rockabilly era, Buzz Cason is more likely to generate thoughts of Bob Dylan and J.J. Cale. Yes, country is an influence, but blues at its grittiest and chuggiest is a larger presence. So, from time to time, is gospel, as witness (so to speak) the powerful "Hooked Up With the Man." And, of course, basic dance-hall rock 'n' roll. Coming in last and at less than two minutes, the Hank tribute feels like an afterthought. It's a decent song, but -- unlike just about anything that has preceded it -- nothing terribly special.

From his long immersion in Southern vernacular music, Cason has absorbed an assortment of roots sounds and shaped them into a idiosyncratic approach that manages to dodge, rather miraculously, just about every cliche at hand. Relatively few songs feel genre-specific, but they all give the sense that they came from somewhere -- somewhere South, that is, and probably where alcohol is served. Cason delivers them all in a lived-in, gravel-specked drawl, whether they're about boozin' and screwin' ("Texas Wild Flower"), good eatin' ("Barbeque"), faded love ("Somebody Told Me"), beloved place ("I Love the South") or grave injustice ("Black Man in Mississippi").

Though Cason, who lives in Tennessee, has strong connections with the Texas music scene, he doesn't sound like a generic Red Dirt act, by which I mean a would-be Guy Clark or a vaguely countrified guitar-rock hack. Cason is somebody who's been hearing music and playing it all his life, and as the sum of a whole lot of worthy influences, he is, finally, no more or less than himself. If this album doesn't sound good to you, well, you and I probably wouldn't have much else to talk about, either.

review by
Jerome Clark

12 April 2008

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