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"WILD YEARS-THE MUSIC & MYTH OF TOM WAITS" BY JAY S. JACOBS

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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Record Reviews > The Hank Williams Songbook

MUSIC REVIEWS

Various Artists-The Hank Williams Songbook (Varse Vintage)

The fact that Hank Williams is still the prototypical country music legend fifty years after his untimely passing is not just about his legendary hard life and young death in the back of a Cadillac.  Lots of artists have died before their time, and were sadly forgotten soon after.  Williams was not just an arresting performer and guitarist, he was quite possibly the greatest songwriter on the very human emotion of despair. 

While Williams' songs are still recorded and relevant to this day (Norah Jones had an AAA hit with her sultry take on Hank's "Cold Cold Heart" last year), these recordings are mostly versions done in the late 50s-early 60s country and rockabilly stars... at the time that ole Hank was becoming legendary, in large part by versions of his songs like the ones included here. 

These recordings were mainly pulled from the legendary Sun and Hickory labels.  There are three songs by fellow country icon Johnny Cash, who sounds sturdy as an oak even on these early songs.  His reading of "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle" is creepily solitary, that commanding baritone portraying a lifetime of hurt, but Cash can also have some fun with one of Williams' lighter tunes, "Hey Good Lookin'." 

Jerry Lee Lewis is also a shining star here, adding his signature rockabilly barrelhouse piano to the gumbo of "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," but he also captures the emotional resignation of "Cold Cold Heart."  B.J. Thomas' 1966 pop hit version of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" still sounds wonderfully desolate, while pop singer Del Shannon gives a sixties sheen and a surprising country lilt to "Ramblin' Man."  Don Gibson contributes a snaky blues-rock feel to "Move It On Over."  Sue Thompson did a lovely teen queen take on the unrequited lament "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)."  

For all these older recordings, surprisingly few have aged poorly.  Even if the instrumentation is a bit dated -- like Rusty & Doug Kershaw's skiffle beat take on "Why Don't You Love Me?" -- the strong songcraft carries the load.   Many of these songs have deservedly become standards.  This collection is worth the money alone for the three Johnny Cash songs and the four from Jerry Lee Lewis.  The fact that the rest work so well is just further proof that if you start off with a good map, you aren't likely to get lost.  (8/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2003 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 18, 2003.

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Copyright 2003 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 18, 2003.