In 1951, if you were awake at 7:15 in the morning and your radio was within the long reach of Nashville's WSM-AM, you had Hank Williams with your farina, singing with his Drifting Cowboys and selling sacks of flour for his sponsor, Mother's Best. Williams wasn't in the WSM studio at that hour; he prerecorded the shows on days off from touring. But the 54 performances in this three-CD set pack a magical, concentrated immediacy that is, in its time and way, as electrifying as Johnny Cash's Sixties prison shows or Bob Dylan's early acoustic concerts. Williams' nasally drawl is crisp and strong, like the young Dylan without the sandpaper; he holds the long, desolate notes in "Cool Water" with stunning force. Williams' wide-ranging songbag is also a rare window into his daily life as an entertainer. He takes requests (the pre-Civil War spiritual "Lonely Tombs"), debuts new originals like "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)" and puts his own potent spin on hits by Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff. But these broadcasts were a unique, intimate showbiz, too, for a working class to whom a good tune and some harmony could be the best part of a day. "That's a mighty fine song for you boys to send out, especially to all our shut-in friends this morning," an announcer says after a bunkhouse-choir reading of the hymn "Where He Leads Me." Play these songs over your breakfast, and wake up right.
Original Review by David Frick