In the heart of Hollywood, hidden on a side street just below the boulevard, The Piano Bar has been a long time primary for live music. Legendary artists like Billy Gibbons, Chuck E. Weiss, and Harry Connick, Jr. drop in unannounced to jam with local musicians like Austin Hanks and The Kalifornia Kingsnakes, whom have had a Sunday afternoon gig there for several years. LA Weekly has called the band “the brightest jewel in the joint’s formidable, funky crown,” which speaks volumes considering the roster of regular performers.
Originally from Alabama, lead singer and guitarist Austin Hanks is a Southern Rock guru who’s former band, Slick Lilly, was one of the hottest groups of the pre-grunge 90’s. Now based in Los Angeles, he has written six songs for the hit show Sons of Anarchy, and is about to release his second solo album, Alabastard, meaning an Alabama born kid turned drifter, according to Hanks.
Hanks co-produced Alabastard with Grammy Award Winning producer, David Bianco (Lucinda Williams, Danzig, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, etc.). The album opens with a vulnerable ballad called “Toughest Part of Me,” a sweet throwback to guys like Gregg Allman and Johnny Lee. “Delta Torches” shows off Austin’s songwriting talent and is so perfectly done, that it is easily mistaken for something you already know the words to. But trust me, you don’t, unless of course you were a regular at The Piano Bar where he has been testing it out. In fact, the only cover on Alabastard is the James Brown song “I’ll go Crazy,” which includes a collaboration with Southern Rock Royals, Billy Gibbons and Jimmy Hall. Hanks’ version is better than any of Brown’s recordings I could find, a testament to Bianco and his vision for what could be done with it.
Audiences may recognize Hank’s song “Aching Need”, which is a tender, doleful love letter, and was recorded live with The Kalifornia Kingsnakes, exactly the way they perform it at The Piano Bar. The song has been used in various television shows and is the only song carried over from his first solo album, Salt of the Earth. “Birmingham” seems to be the theme song of Alabastard and was written in the perspective of a friend and former band mate of Hanks. A story about a guy who has made some bad decisions and burned some bridges, “Birmingham” paints the picture of an addict trying to get a little love from the town where he was once a king.
“Rising Water Blues” is probably the most chilling work on the album, especially for those who have brushed the shoulder of death by flood or hurricane, a common Southern tragedy, but the overall message in this song is hope. Recorded like a dirty Delta Blues song, it also plays with some trendy reverb and distortion, but only just enough to leave us wanting more, which is classic Austin Hanks. You can catch him opening for ZZ Top on their upcoming tour in February, or at the new Piano Bar 2.0 in Hollywood this March.
Alabastard is superb and if you like artists like Jonny Lang, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bob Seger, Blackberry Smoke or Chris Stapleton, you’ll love Austin Hanks. You can buy it on itunes and other web retailers starting February 1.
Review by Bylle Breaux / Photo by Karen Walker Chamberlin
Published in MonkeyGoose Magazine