Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hank Williams Goldmine Review


The Unreleased Recordings

Time Life (80031-D) (Three CDs)

 Young Hank Williams had under two years to live in 1951 when he pre-recorded 72 short radio shows.   With 54 tracks, The Unreleased Recordings is the first installment of their songs in a series that will enthrall Hankoholics like myself.

Along with the hillbilly Shakespeare’s own hits (“Cold Cold Heart,” “I Can’t Help It”), we find plenty of covers he never taped elsewhere (“Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” The Weavers’ trad folk hit “On Top Of Old Smoky”) and fervent four-part-harmony gospel with his Drifting Cowboys on guitar, bass, fiddle, and steel guitar.  Don Helm’s teardrop steel notes perfectly fit the aching sincerity of Williams’ vocals.

Somehow he always shone in the studio despite the torments of alcoholism, congenital back problems and a horrible marriage.  An ornery “Mind Your Own Business” verse that wasn’t on the song’s single release portrays him as (no surprise) a battered husband.

 These discs delete much of the shows’ between-song talk unlike his 1949 Health & Happiness Shows transcriptions.  But we do hear him joke, “I like this verse,” amid his comically hang-dog “Dear John.” 

While his career peaked in 1951 (the golden age of honky-tonk music), off stage his life was so tragic that, though he sang Roy Acuff’s “Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine,” his burdens were really greater than most of ours.   And when, turning to gospel,  he sang, “I’ll have a new body.  I’ll have a new life,” it may have been the spina bifida victim’s greatest wish.

Bruce Sylvester

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