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.