January 15, 2009

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Hank Williams, The Unreleased Recordings
Time/Life Records, Oct. 28, 2008

Yes, it’s that Time/Life, but the days when one could laugh that off are gone as a new generation of pierced, hungry, java-gulping Sony BMG PR apprentices is out for press love, which they’ll surely find in many corners when hawking this slice of previously unreleased pre-Cambrian-punk life. There’s only one source for all 54 songs contained in this three-disc brick, that being a series of 15-minute live radio spots Williams made for the Mother’s Best Flour Company in 1951 at the peak of his career. The intense legal battle to release this, won by Willams’ estate, had high stakes: the recordings have little graininess to them past the expected limits of the day’s technology. Disc 1 begins with “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” and immediately transports the listener to a monochrome, dust-blown time that serves as a vision of stouthearted clarity to our era of formless fearfulness and literal/figurative bankruptcy. Fine, OK, besides that, it’s pretty neat to hear the hands-down-ultimate version of “On Top of Old Smoky” (the 1925 song was reanimated as a hit by The Weavers in ’51) and reverently administered country-gospel standards like “Dust on the Bible” as played to a live studio audience. Many of the songs are led off or closed with fascinating little interviewlets and adorably unassuming glad-handing by the Mother’s Best radio emcee. A+E. W. S.