Various – The Lost Notebooks Of Hank Williams
Label: Egyptian Records – 88697090101, Third Man Records – TMR-119, CMF Records – 88697090101, Columbia – 88697090101
Format: Vinyl, LP
Genre: Folk, World, & Country
A1 Alan Jackson – You've Been Lonesome, Too 3:24
A2 Bob Dylan – The Love That Faded 2:33
A3 Norah Jones – How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart? 3:33
A4 Jack White – You Know That I Know 3:55
A5 Lucinda Williams – I'm So Happy I Foind You 3:15
A6 Vince Gill & Rodney Crowell – I Hope You Shed A Million Tears 4:01
B1 Patty Loveless – You're Through Fooling Me 2:07
B2 Levon Helm – You'll Never Again Be Mine 3:11
B3 Holly Williams – Blue Is My Heart 2:45
B4 Jakob Dylan – Oh, Mama, Come Home 2:28
B5 Sheryl Crow – Angel Mine 3:38
B6 Merle Haggard – The Sermon On The Mount 2:08
Songs were created from writings left behind by Hank Williams set to new music.
Bob Dylan was wise to invite others to join this project and the results are refreshing. Indeed, no silly self-glorification, or self-promoting gimmicks. In this day and age Hank Williams and his fellow songwriters demonstrate what music and lyrics can mean when they promote the art form and not the "star". Laid bare, this is simply a group of songwriters doing their best to celebrate Hank Williams.
A daunting challenge, but a great one, a good humored one, and the best part is they succeed. I've read reviews and one person likes this artist or that person thinks another was "best". I think that's great. It speaks to many tastes, many impressions, and the variety of skill these individuals display. Of course no single song will please everyone. Why should it? It's not a contest; it's a songwriting jam session and a pretty great one.
How to categorise this album is by no means an easy task. Is it a careful work of historical restoration taking the mother lode of lyrics produced in 4 large notebooks by Hank Williams the legendary genius of the country movement and treating them to latter day reverence? Alternatively is it an act of retro fitting Williams copious lyrics and giving them a pristine new revamp in song structures imagined by an impressive range of performers?
Ultimately its a bit of both and has at its heart the ultimate archivist in the form of the one and only Bob Dylan acting as the guiding curator for a treasure trove that he was first offered as far back in 1967 when approached with a shoebox full of Williams's lyrics. The rights for these unfinished songs were only acquired in 2004 but as Rolling Stone states Dylan has performed a remarkable feat here offering these base metals to a range of great songwriters and turning "a vaguely necrophiliac idea into a startling reincarnation".
Hank Williams was the high lonesome prophet of honky tonk country who wrote the greatest heartbreaking classics of the genre. He was also the sad template for the "live fast die young" philosophy which has taken so many artists at a criminally young age and which saw him in the grave by the age of 29 ravaged by morphine and alcohol.
Despite the passing of 60 years since his death in 1953 his legacy grows at pace and he has previously been covered by artsist ranging from Nat King Cole to the Mekons. On this album Dylan has assembled a top notch team, asked them to choose a lyric from the notebooks and set it to music. All have thankfully largely followed the Williams "house style" and as such the songs are immediately accessible and strangely familiar despite their newness.
To be fair all participants come out of the exercise with credit with Jakob Dylan probably producing the most modern reading of the lyrics in the lovely alt country style ballad "Oh mama come home" while the most classic interpretation comes from the excellent country neo traditionalist Alan Jackson in the form of "You've been lonesome too' where the ghost of Williams is most clearly invoked.
In between there are are some great songs not least from the always impressive Norah Jones who is no stranger to Hank Williams covers with her previous version of "Cold Cold Heart".
Her hint of Tex Mex in the sumptuous "How many times have you broken my heart" sung in her smoky voice is a true joy and an album highlight. More rough hewn and invoking the outlaw elements of Williams songwriting is the song by former White Stripes main-man Jack White whose "You know that I know" demonstrates yet again that Hank Williams's words amounted to him being the Shakespeare of cheating songs.
Aside from providing the guiding principles Bob Dylan himself contributes the "The love that faded" showing that the old curmudgeon is still in great voice, but even more remarkable is the unmistakable vocal of the Band's Levon Helm whose "You'll never again be mine" is underpinned by his earthy Southern pastoralism.
Talking of fine voices Lucinda Williams is almost the female counterpoint to Helm and her "I'm so happy I found you" is one of the saddest of the collection; it is however another Williams that provides the most fitting tribute.
Indeed Holly Williams is the granddaughter of Hank Williams and her "Blue is my heart' deserves to enter the canon of great country music songs. The whole thing is topped off with a fine contribution from the old "Okie from Muskogee" Merle Haggard whose "The sermon on the mount" is a fitting conclusion to proceedings.
Its a very fair bet that if Hank Williams had got round to recording the lyrics in the notebooks that further classics would have been added to a repertoire already sardine packed with the some of the best country songs ever recorded.
That this exercise guided by Dylan succeeds in cementing that reputation is a testimony to the talents of the songwriters concerned to whom we should offer a very loud vote of thanks for this excellent piece of musical refurbishment.
Bob Dylan - The Love That Faded
Hank Williams legend lives
Levon Helm - You'll Never Again Be Mine
Norah Jones - How Many Times Have You Broke My Heart