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Archive for November, 2009

It’s not surprising that the new Mother’s Best 3 disc Box Set from Hank Williams is not getting  the kind of attention from the media that last years first edition did.

Last year, you recall, I catalogued the huge list of major media outlets both print and electronic around the world who gave such glowing coverage to ‘The Unreleased Recordings’.

So far the major media outlets have passed over ‘Revealed’. These outlets obviously saw their treatment last year as an endorsement and commendation for the whole planned three release series.

But some bloggers in particular have done a great job of zeroing in on the new release.

One of the most profound statements on Hank Williams I have ever heard (  I say this because it mirrors my own views exactly)  comes in the first sentence of Ken Burke’s review in ‘Country Standard Time’. Here it is:

 After his death in 1953, Hank Williams, became less a performer than a post-mortem brand name wherein his basic personality as an artist was increasingly downplayed and diminished. This remarkably enjoyable three-CD set, drawn from warmly remastered acetates – featuring occasional surface noise – of the old Mother’s Best radio show, showcases much of that nearly lost essence.

Burke also notes the real drive that you can hear in the up tempo hits that are featured on Disc 1. He can see “rockabilly intentions” in Hanks work which were realized with Elvis later in the decade. The review ends with a statement on Williams’ lasting impact: “Williams’ down home charisma completely renews his star power for modern audiences.”

‘My Kind Of Country’ offers a complete in-depth  review by Occasional Hope which allows that this Set may be of more “historical interest” than the ‘Unreleased’. It notes that the ‘Luke the Drifter’ selections on Disc 3 are not all originally by Luke the Drifter.  Hope, I think correctly praises the live shows on each disc, but thinks really the wide variety of new unheard material on the ‘Unreleased’ Box set revealed more about Hank Williams artistry than the selections this time around.

Richard Marcus in ‘Leap in The Dark’ gets off a great line ab0ut the gospel songs which he finds disturbing overall: “a look into  the darker recesses of Williams’ brain where guilt and fear sit holding hands.”

There is a short review at the allmusic website. Steve Leggett is really enthusiastic about the new release, ” these long-lost recordings are an absolute treasure simply goes without saying. Hank Williams was country music’s first modern superstar and that all these years later, we are given several hours of Williams performing in an intimate setting just as he was beginning to break across the nation’s radar, is nothing short of a miracle.”

Dan MacIntosh in ‘Roughstock’ expresses some disappointment with Disc 3. I share that concern that the third disc drags a bit with a mixture of vocal and spoken word. In the end MacIntosh gets pretty exuberant:

 “Williams, even to this day, is deceptively amazing. He sang simple songs, with simple arrangements, but there is nevertheless great depth to what he recorded. Maybe it was his voice. Perhaps it was how he could distill complicated relationships – whether romantic or spiritual – into words that the common man could easily understand. Whatever the explanation, like a rural magician, you’ll likely find yourself asking, ‘How did he do that?’ after listening to this fine collection. You might also wonder if he ever recorded anything substandard. I’ll wager he never did, and this three-CD set supports such a belief.” Wow you can’t much more positive than that.

Pop Matters has once again reviewed the Hank Williams release from TimeLife. Christel Loar goes right to the core of what we’ve all being saying about these remastered Mother’s Best recordings: “The recordings reveal a personality that is much more lively and filled with humor than one might expect from listening to his most popular songs. Williams tells stories and talks easily about his music and his life as he performs his songs, many of which are alternate arrangements to familiar favorites, and some of which were never performed by Williams outside these studio sessions.”

So far I haven’t seen any reviews of the new album in major newspapers or even minor ones for that matter. If you run across any, please post them in the comments section below.

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Hank Williams was the centerpiece of a ceremony in Cincinnati Sunday November 22, 2009 honoring the musicians who recorded at the historic Herzog Recording Studio.

I wrote  a post on this site  earlier concerning plans to recognize the the studio with some details on Hank’s recordings there with dates, and a list of some of the other stars who recorded at this studio.

There is a good article on the Herzog Studio and history including references to Hank Williams and the many  country stars who came there in the 40’s to record with the Pleasant Valley Boys, Nashville musicians who were there to appear on a popular early country TV show.

http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20091122/ENT03/911220326/1028/ENT/Marker+notes++studio+heyday

And K. F. Raizor has a good write up on his blog.

http://raizorsedge.blogspot.com/2009/11/where-legends-sang.html

Of course with ‘Lovesick Blues’ and  ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ plus other Hank Williams classics recorded there, it’s no wonder Hank was the centre of the cermony. In fact, a two sided  plaque was unveiled, with one side devoted entirely  to Hank Williams.

Here’s a TV station link which has a bit of video of the unveiling on Sunday.

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Hank Williams is not just an entertainer, a country music superstar, a pop song writer, a radio personality a million seller recording star, country hall of fame member, rock hall member. Hank Williams transcends these popular designations, honors,  and labels that change with the weeks and months and years.

Hank Williams is a world artist of the highest order whose work rises above region, place or time.  Hank Williams stared fearlessly into the depths of anguish, despair and death. Hank Williams exalts in  the triumphs of human nature, the  raucous sensual joys, and hopes and optimism in life and love. In his short life, he tasted the triumphs of commercial success, sold out concerts,  punishing national tours, million selling records, the top of the hit parade.  

Now 60 years later we are moving into uncharted territory as just recently seen by his inclusion in the New Literary  History of America. The release of the ‘The Unreleased Recordings’ last year was reviewed by newspapers, radio and television, magazines and other journals around the world. This modest little blog receives visitors from Europe and elsewhere around the world. I support the petition to have Hank reinstated to the Grand Old Opry, but find it rather amusing. Friends, in the Hank Williams’ universe of 2009, the Grand Old Opry is peanuts!

If  ‘Revealed’ the second 3 volume Box Set of Hank Williams’ Mother’s Best Recordings had been released first it probably would have had the same dramatic impact as the first set of ‘The Unreleased Recordings’ had a year ago. But now, I suppose, the exciting and wonderful new insights into Hank Williams talent and personality we experienced a year ago were taken for granted as we waited for this the second of three Mother’s Best Box Sets expected from Time Life. And so far the new set has not received the wide-ranging publicity avalanche that occurred when ‘The Unreleased’ was dropped into the music world.

There is nothing disappointing about this collection. As I wrote in an earlier post, the new format of dividing the discs by theme and presenting one complete show on each disk is a success. The first disc of hits contains some really rocking versions of Hank’s early rockabilly recordings such as ‘Move It On Over’, ‘Hey Good Lookin’ ,’Why Don’t You Love Me’, Moanin The Blues and ‘Mind Your Own Business’. Disc 2 presents the usual solid and moving renditions of sacred songs many  we may have never heard him sing before. Disc 3 will be a disappointment to some and will not get as much playing time as the first two. It’s called ‘Luke the Drifter’ although that’s a bit misleading. From my memory, and the discographers will know of course, but many of these songs did not appear as original Luke the Drifter recordings. Most of the songs here are familiar to fans  and a new cover of ‘Deck of Cards’ a late 40s narration hit  really doesn’t add much to the Hank Williams’ story.

But overall the new set continues the sense of  excitement that  the first Mother’s Best recordings  brought to the average Hank Williams fan for the first time. There is the clarity and broadcast quality of the sound which surpasses the original MGM studio recordings. There is the richness in his voice and subtlety of expression we never heard before, not  until these old acetate radio program recordings were remastered and restored.

We learn more about Hank. And this is where the new set even surpasses the first release. A lot more studio banter and Hank’s relaxed easy going kibitzing with his band and host Louis Buck is included.  It’s a relaxed presentation that doesn’t sound like Hank’s session recordings that he knew were carved in stone so to speak and would last forever. These are just more of the of thousands of radio programs in Montgomery, Shreveport and Nashville that he did through the years and for all he knew were going out across the airwaves to disappear forever.

But on the other hand, the recordings have an immediacy in his knowledge that they were going out live to thousands of people and this brings out a relaxed intimacy with the microphone and audience only ‘live’ radio creates. Another revelation from the first Box Set  was the breadth of  Hank Williams’ musical interests and knowledge. Once again the gospel songs are standouts, along with hits made famous by other singers, and  fascinating if obscure songs Hank Williams picked to fill out these radio programs, .

These recordings are an artistic treasure, because they shows us more. They unveil the Hank Williams as an artist for the ages.  An artist with a short life and limited output. But an artist whose breadth of knowledge of human emotions  expressed both a writer and a performer, who  explores  the deepest issues of human existence is unsurpassed  in popular music.

As I discussed in first Mother’s Best release, powerful performances of songs Hank did not write added so much to his stature.  I discussed ‘Cool Water’ On Top of old Smokey’  ‘Searching for a Soldier’s Grave’ and ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?’ among others. The same is true this time.

There are some equally moving and forceful efforts on this new set. I’m just letting them sink in a bit, and as I did last time, will go over the new recordings disc by disc.

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Dale Vinicur, who co-wrote a memoir by Hank Williams’ step daughter Lycrecia, and an autobiography of Don Helms as well as other books, contributions to country music history journals, and articles about the Williams’ family died last week.

She died on Tuesday, Oct 26, 2009 in Miami.  Dale was diagnosed with cancer only 2 months ago. She was 64. Her book on Lycrecia’s memories of the Hank Williams’ household is called ‘Still In Love With You’. ‘Settin’ the Woods on Fire’ presented Don Helms’ memories of his life as Hank Williams’ steel guitar player and friend. ‘Dear Mama Williams’ was a book about the letters and cards received by the Williams’ family following his death.
 
Vinicur was a stout defender of Audrey Williams who she thought had been misrepresented in many biographies and articles about Hank. Beginning in 2006 she wrote a blog. Her ideas about how she felt modern biographers had twisted the true story of Hank and Audrey’s relations can be found in these two blog entries.
 
Dale Vinicur also had a page on MySpace.
 
Vinicur was associated with Audrey’s  Dream a charitable organization in Nashville dedicated to Hank and Audrey Williams  which has the following mission statement on its website:
“‘To be Nashville’s central information and support hub for people with substance abuse problems and their families”.
 
I have a lot of sympathy with Dale Vincur’s views. Earlier I expressed concern about the upcoming movie  on Hank Williams being influenced by the anti Audrey sentiment and over emphasis on Hank’s personal life over his artistic accomplishments. Finally, I was disappointed to read pointless, useless cheap shots toward Audrey Williams in the liner notes to the recent ‘Unreleased’ and ‘Revealed’ recordings. What’s the point? It’s 2009.
 
I probably don’t agree with all or even most of Dale Vinicur’s points. Maybe the truth is about half way between Dale and Colin Escott. The fact is nobody knows the real truth in somebody else’s marriage and never will.
 
 But I sure think Dale Vinicur said  some things that needed to be said.
 

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