The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams

Various Artists

Columbia / Egypt , 2011

REVIEW BY: David Bowling

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/12/2011

Hank Williams, with the possible exception of Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933), was the most important artist in country music history. His classic songs and vocal phrasing were instrumental in exposing country music to a national audience. While the American country sound has now traveled a great distance since his death January 1, 1953, at the age of 29, the elements of his style and sound can still be found and his influences are very alive and well nearly 60 years later. He was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as an Early Influence during 1987.

When Hank Williams died in the backseat of his Cadillac in Oak Hill, West Virginia, while on his way to a concert in Canton, Ohio, it brought to a close one of the more successful and prolific careers of the era.

One of legendary and controversial aspects of his death was his notebooks, which contained ideas and lyrics to unfinished songs. The lost notebooks and their contents have lain dormant for the past 60 years – until now.

The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams will be released October 4, 2011. The concept is interesting as it takes these left-behind lyrics and sets them to music, courtesy of some of the leading artists of today. The music varies from average to excellent, as 13 different artists use their own ideas and talents to provide the music for his left behind lyrics.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The original idea was to have this as a Bob Dylan project, but it quickly evolved into a multi-artist affair. Still, one cannot help but wonder what gems would have appeared had Dylan provided all the music. We are left with one track by Dylan. He has gone in a country direction many times in the past and “The Love That Faded” catches him impersonating Williams’ country twang, with the music being fueled by a pedal steel guitar.

The tracks that work the best are those by classic country artists, which seems logical. Hank Williams was always a superb lyricist, and artists like Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, and Merle Haggard are able to create music that brings those lyrics to life.

Alan Jackson’s “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too” is one of the albums best tracks. The imagery tell a story of pain, plus the lonesome fiddle and the vocal are right out of the Williams songbook, all of which adds up to a classic country track. Merle Haggard provides the other outstanding highlight. His weary vocal to the religious “Sermon On The Mount” is the just right. The only problem is that the song has a somewhat unfinished feel, which may be due to what was available to Haggard.

Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell join together on “I Hope I Shed A Million Tears.” They make use of a steel guitar to move the song along but their use of singing and spoken word is different from all the other performances. “You’re Through Loving Me” by Patty Loveless was melodic and makes good use of her pure country voice.

Not everything works as well. Sheryl Crow’s “Angel Mine” is too subdued and “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart” by Norah Jones is too simple. Jack White creates country music but does not deliver a country vocal. The likes of Lucinda Williams, Holly Williams, and Levon Helm cover the middle ground in terms of quality on this album.

As with any project of this nature, it was bound to be a scattered affair due the differences in the artists involved and the material they were given for interpretation and inspiration. In the final analysis, The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams gives a long-lost look into the mind of an American musical icon and for that the album is an interesting and, in places, a very good listen.

Rating: B+

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© 2011 David Bowling and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia / Egypt , and is used for informational purposes only.