Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CD Odyssey Disc 32: Hank Williams

As my KISS review indicates, my early experience makes me a little bit rock n' roll. However, I'm also a little bit country.

Disc 32 is...Gold

Artist: Hank Williams

Year of Release: 2002 but the music is from the late forties and early fifties

How I Came To Know It: I come by my love of Hank Williams via my Mom, who is a fan and played him a lot while I was growing up. Many years later, I am amazed at how much good music I picked up from my Mom - most of it good old fashioned country AND western. Also a little Canadiana, but I'll talk about that when I get there.

How It Stacks Up: not applicable. This is a best of. I do have two best ofs for Hank Williams, though, and this is the better one of the two.

Rating: not applicable. Best ofs aren't fair to rate.

Hank Williams (along with Tex Ritter) is to me the grand daddy of modern American music, and the origins of Outlaw Country that I have loved so much in recent years.

Without Hank, there is no Steve Earle, no Lucinda Williams and - quite literally - no Hank Williams III (his grandson). On the downside, he also created Hank Williams Jr. - a real asstastic example of how bad new country can get.

Historically, Hank Sr.'s music is fascinating, since you can see early arrangements that become the building blocks of later music.

However, Hank Sr. is a great artist in his own right, not just a study in early country music. His voice can be both rough around the edges and mournful at the same time. No man hits falsetto like Hank does. He is a true artist with his voice.

On top of this, this recording (a 2 disc set) has some great sessional musicians playing on it. He was a big thing in his day, and he obviously attracted the best. Or they were his band. I have no idea, and I'm too much of a modernist to research it. Take that, post-modernists! With your internet and your fancy doo-dads gettin' in the way of enjoying the music!

Hank is also one of the greatest songwriters I know. His stuff runs the gamut from bluesy tracks like Move It on Over (famously covered by George Thorogood), and My Bucket's Got a Hole In It" to mournful songs of lost love like "A Mansion On The Hill" and "Your Cheatin' Heart". He also does gospel music, and one of his records is entirely spiritual. This collection has the title track "I Saw The Light" and it is a good one.

He also does a fair bit of novelty song stuff - like "Howlin' At the Moon" which has a goofy wolf howl at the end of most of the verses, but this stuff is thankfully fairly rare.

Hank was a troubled soul, and he struggled with alcoholism, drugs and hard living. These vices killed him in true rock & roll fashion (legend has it he died in the back seat of a taxi) at the tender age of 29.

For such a young career, it is packed full of incredible songwriting, performing and 50 years later Hank Williams remains one of the most influential figures in American music.

But don't buy him for that - buy him because he is a damned good listen.

Best tracks: There are a lot of good tracks, but since all must go on my MP3 player (new rule) I'll try to be judicious - Honky Tonkin', Move It On Over, You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave), I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You), You're Cheatin' Heart, The Angel of Death, Mind Your Own Business

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