HANK WILLIAMS > The Unreleased Recordings

If history has taught us anything, it’s to take any collection billed as the “complete” Hank Williams with a grain of salt. He did a limited amount of studio sessions, it’s true, but the song demos and live recordings gradually keep coming. This batch of Williams’ Mother’s Best-sponsored shows (more are on the way) ups the steady trickle of previously unreleased recordings to a fire hose blast.Label: TIME LIFE
[Rating: 4.5 STARS]

If history has taught us anything, it’s to take any collection billed as the “complete” Hank Williams with a grain of salt. He did a limited amount of studio sessions, it’s true, but the song demos and live recordings gradually keep coming. This batch of Williams’ Mother’s Best-sponsored shows (more are on the way) ups the steady trickle of previously unreleased recordings to a fire hose blast.

The shows aired on WSM each morning at 7:15, and Williams-already a Grand Ole Opry star and MGM recording artist by 1951-pre-recorded the segments with his fiddle-and-steel honky-tonk band, the Drifting Cowboys, during breaks from the road. These radio shows are a different animal than almost everything else we’ve heard from Williams before. They feature the archetypal country star near career peak, but they’re less formal than his studio recordings and capture his voice more clearly (his singing was less pinched-sounding and more varied than the old MGM cuts have led us to believe). And the sound quality surpasses most of his other radio recordings.

Williams’ ad-libbing at the end of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” suggests he thought of these on-air performances as fleeting and intimate opportunities: “Nobody’s heard that one but me and you and the folks that just listened now.” Since the shows were meant for one-time listening, he could choose any songs he found appealing, whether sentimental parlor songs, southern gospel numbers or somebody else’s then-current hits. That live show freedom can be felt in Williams’ singing, too: during “Cool Water” his clear, earnest tenor climbs to an emotional pitch; during the especially fervent-sounding “I’m Gonna Sing,” he punches each “sing” for emphasis; and the Cowboys’ high harmonies lend several cuts a sense of ragged kinship. What this three-disc set offers is the unguarded, expressive Hank Williams. And that’s a riveting thing.

Leave a Reply

MARK OLSON & GARY LOURIS > Ready for the Flood

THE SMITHS > The Sound of The Smiths