The short version: ‘Hebert Island’ is a messy, unfocused listen that gets it right in certain spots and totally fails in others.
The long version: Despite some young blood emerging in the Texas country scene, William Clark Green still feels more like the hunter than the prey. His brand of fierce, unapologetic, biting lyricism combined with rocking energy has quickly made him a leader in the scene.
In fact, it may have made him a leader too fast. The most direct proof comes from him blatantly addressing this on “Next Big Thing” from Ringling Road, one of the best albums of 2015 to this day. But since then, Green has been relatively quiet, with the only new piece of music up until now being a live album from 2016.
Of course, taking a longer amount of time to release a project isn’t inherently a bad thing. Hebert Island on the other hand did raise some cause for concern though. For one, the lead single, “Hit You Where It Hurts” felt like a poor man’s version of “Sympathy,” and with the album’s original release date pushed back just to include more songs, well, the concerns were starting to become legitimate.
Hebert Island unfortunately doesn’t calm those worries though. It feels like Green released this project just to have new music out there. Hebert Island has a few gems here and there, but it also feels like an inessential listen that shows Green pulling from the same well as before.
The most noticeable difference with Hebert Island is that it’s a stripped back affair compared to Green’s past projects, with some of the rock energy traded in for more fiddle and pedal steel. The title track itself is the outlier of the project. It features an upbeat mix of drums, electric guitar, tambourine, horns and, later, hand-clap percussion to set the album off on the right note.
Aside from that though, the arrangements aren’t nearly as wild or up to par with Green’s standards. Most of the electric guitar lines sound watered down and generic, especially in the first half of this project. As mentioned before, “Hit You Where It Hurts” is “Sympathy” without the crunch to back it up.
On the note of that song though, Green’s lyricism isn’t for everybody. He’s often bitter and callous even if what he’s saying is true. Yet there’s times here where he crosses the line and shows the difference between his best and worst work. “Sympathy” was simply him brushing off an old lover who treated him wrong and tried to come crawling back. He was bitter because he was done and wanted no part of any further relationship with the person. As mean as it is, it’s an understandable position, especially when the wound of the relationship is still fresh. Plus, Green often infused a sense of self awareness into his songs that let the listener know he was in the wrong as well.
But “Hit You Where It Hurts” finds him taking action this time around, ruthlessly proclaiming that he’s going to make sure this woman suffer for … something. We don’t really get any details or anything that might help to justify the behavior but you know, she did something. Let’s roll with it I guess. It’s spiteful without giving any justification and features a weak instrumental mix that makes it one of Green’s most shallow and worst songs to date.
The same criticisms can be said for the song, “Farewell,” a somehow even more confusing track. Granted, the hazier, darker mix bodes well for a troubling song, but it just once again shows Green being unnecessarily ruthless toward a former lover who, to the best of our knowledge, just did, again, “something.” Green even sings “I don’t know why I have so much hate in me, it bothers me” before essentially contradicting that by telling this former lover to “go to hell” by the end of the chorus. Sorry, but admitting you have the problem and acting out anyway just makes it hard to be on the side of anyone who sings this.
Ironically though, while Hebert Island alone contains two of Green’s worst tracks, it’s also a dialed back album lyrically as well. The problem is though is that it’s almost too laid back. “What About Now,” “Goner” and “Stay” are all decent enough cuts, but they lack the distinctive characteristics to really call them standouts. “What About Now” is further hampered by a choppy chorus. “Goner” on the other hand at least features Green’s knack for catchy choruses while “Stay” has a sweet message to it.
The album’s best songs also mainly stem from the first half. “Poor” is the one song here that feels like a trademark Green song, with his brand of witty turns of phrases on full display as he does his best to glamorize living poorly and making the best out of a little. It’s an important message for today and also features a nice rootsy Celtic feel in the fiddle melody. “Wings,” the track before, goes for the same message albeit in a more generic fashion and with a loud, overproduced chorus.
“She Loves Horse” is more of a shocking perspective for Green, mostly because he *gasp* sees the end of a relationship as a good thing because he wants his lover to be happy chasing her own dreams even if it’s without him.
The second half of the album though mainly sees Green pulling from past tropes and ideas that he’s pounded to death on other releases in more interesting manners. “This Is Us” is one of those celebration tracks that finds a couple reflecting on the road behind them and the struggles they faced, even though once again, Green lacks any real details to make this interesting. It’s hard to feel the urgency of a song without any stakes or a real story.
“If You Ask Me To” is an uninteresting love song where the lyrical structure plays itself out early on, and “I Miss You” is a tedious bore of a track that’s way more drawn out than it needed to be. Green at least ends on a high note with “Mother,” a fitting tribute to his mother where he admits she helps keep him in line for his wrongdoings. It’s easily the most convincing moment vocally here from Green as well.
Overall though, Hebert Island is just all over the place and doesn’t really know what it wants to be. At 14 tracks, someone definitely should have trimmed the fat here. Green is a talented artist, and albums like Rose Queen and Ringling Road show his brilliance at its full potential. Most of Hebert Island though feels sloppy, unfinished and just overall not worth the time to listen to despite a few good songs.
- Favorite tracks: “Hebert Island,” “Poor,” “Mother,” “She Loves Horses”
- Least favorite tracks: “Farewell,” “Hit You Where It Hurts”