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The Unreleased Recordings - EP

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Album Review

Considering the seismic impact Hank Williams had on country music, it's remarkable to think that his recording career lasted a mere six years — he signed with MGM Records in early 1947, and was found dead in the back of his Cadillac en route to a gig on the first day of 1953. Williams was a prolific recording artist during that period, cutting an impressive 68 singles in addition to appearing as a regular guest on WSM's weekly Grand Ole Opry broadcast from Nashville and maintaining a punishing schedule of personal appearances. Given Williams' overloaded agenda, it's hard to imagine why he'd agree to also host an early-morning radio show five days a week, but starting in January 1951, he did just that, performing from 7:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. every Monday through Friday on WSM, sponsored by Mother's Best Flour. The show lasted for 15 weeks, and since Williams was frequently out on the road and unable to make it into the studio for live broadcasts, he recorded most of the Mother's Best programs in advance. Thankfully, a Williams fan at WSM had the presence of mind to save the transcription discs of the Mother's Best shows when they were in danger of being thrown away, and after years of legal wrangling over the rights to the recordings, the Hank Williams estate has finally arranged for an authorized release of this material. The Unreleased Recordings is a three-disc set that features 54 songs from the Mother's Best broadcasts, and for serious Hank Williams fans this collection was well worth the wait. The quality of the recordings is usually as good as his studio sessions of the period and often better, with Williams' vocals frequently sounding stronger and more resonant than on his singles, and the performances are strong but casual at the same time.

For these shows, Williams and his band the Drifting Cowboys usually worked out the set lists on the fly, and it's said that the bandmembers often found themselves playing tunes they'd never formally rehearsed for the radio audience. But despite all that, the musicians follow Williams with skill and confidence, and the emotional force of Williams' vocals is an impressive thing to hear. Though a number of Williams' greatest hits are on the song list (sometimes before they were recorded for mass consumption), some of the most remarkable moments come when he pulls classic country and gospel favorites from the songbook: "On Top of Old Smokey" and "Cool Water" are given unexpectedly powerful and dramatic readings; "Cherokee Boogie" and "Tennessee Border" sound enthusiastic and energetic in the hands of the Drifting Cowboys; and white gospel classics like "Softly and Tenderly," "Dust on the Bible," and "I'll Fly Away" are delivered with genuine fervor, as Williams and his band join their voices together for some stellar harmonies. Given how Hank Williams' body of work has been extensively recycled and repackaged in the 50-plus years since his passing, the discovery of a cache of unheard Williams sessions would be good news even under the least favorable circumstances, but The Unreleased Recordings presents the country legend not only in fine form, but essaying some unexpected material with heart, soul, and savvy; it won't replace the man's essential catalog, but it certainly brings a welcome new perspective to his music as well as his influences.

Customer Reviews

Incomplete

There are 54 great songs in this collection, many of which have never been heard since the original broadcasts in 1951. It's incredible to hear "new" Hank Williams material after all these years. Unfortunately only 5 of these songs are available on iTunes. Don't sell yourself short. If you're a Hank fan you MUST get the whole collection plus the fascinating material included in the box set. Word has it that there will be 2-3 more releases increasing the known Hank Williams catalogue by over 50%.

A Monumental Collection (A Five Star rating is not near enough for these historic recordings)

These rare and unreleased recordings are without a doubt a treasure trove into the mind, soul and personality of a true musical genius, Hank Williams. Finally all of the legal hassles and red tape have ended and the world can hear these recordings. This is not just a must have for country music fans, this album should be included in all music lovers collections. Please iTunes, add the entire three album collection to your catalog ASAP.

1951: what a year!

This was the first music I remember hearing. I was three. Those lines about the lonesome whippoorwill made me cry, then. They still do, though, for better or worse, those times are gone . . . . As Jett Williams says, these cuts take you right there.

Biography

Born: September 17, 1923 in Georgiana, AL

Genre: Country

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s

Hank Williams is the father of contemporary country music. He was a superstar by the age of 25; he was dead at the age of 29. In those four short years, he established the rules for all the country performers who followed him and, in the process, much of popular music. Hank wrote a body of songs that became popular classics, and his direct, emotional lyrics and vocals...
Full Bio