The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams


First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2012, Volume 19, #1

Written by John Metzger

Tue January 31, 2012, 05:30 AM CST


Hank Williams was 29 years old when he passed away in 1953 while traveling to a New Year’s Day gig in Ohio. He not only left behind an enviable body of work that included such instantaneously recognizable classics as Hey, Good Lookin’; Jambalaya (on the Bayou); Your Cheatin’ Heart; You Win Again; and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, but he also had amassed a sizeable stash of unfinished songs, which he kept in a briefcase that was never far from his side. The most familiar songs in Williams’ canon have already been enshrined, countless times over, by an array of artists that range from Louis Armstrong and Professor Longhair to Ray Charles and Elvis Presley. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams deals with the latter slate of material.

Initially, Bob Dylan had planned to tackle Williams’ sketches himself by adding whatever lyrics, chords, melodies, and accompaniments were necessary to the works-in-progress. He soon realized, however, that this was a job better suited to a larger group of artists. Following the template he established with the 1997 set The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute — the only other album to be issued by his imprint Egyptian Records — Dylan enlisted a small team of sympathetic artists to assist him with the project. Each of them was instructed to select one of the unfinished songs and do whatever it took to bring the track to fruition.

At first glance, given the album’s lineup of artists, it does appear as if there would be some textural variation among the selections on The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams. Further reflection, however, reveals that everyone who was involved in the project has had some connection to the country music scene. Alan Jackson, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, and Merle Haggard, of course, have made their living in the genre. Outliers, like Jack White and Norah Jones, have worked around its fringes — White via his Grammy-winning alliance with Loretta Lynn and Jones with her side-project The Little Willies.

Therefore, both musically and lyrically, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams isn’t particularly revelatory. Instead, the songs that are featured on the album largely remain within the established scope of Williams’ existing output. Most of the tracks on the set address the emotions that seep through the cracks of a broken heart, and although the music occasionally turns contemporary, it never strays far from something Williams himself might have recorded.

In other words, despite the fact that all of the artists who contributed to The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams were given free reign to do as they pleased, they all seemingly felt obligated to remain true to Williams’ vision. The manner in which they sang the songs and the chords and arrangements that they employed are all rooted within the hallowed halls of the classic-country sound that Williams helped to establish. Even so, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams accomplishes its objective for the simple reason that every track on the set feels like an extension of one of his seminal recordings. As a result, the outing stands as a solid companion piece to Timeless: A Tribute to Hank Williams, which paid homage to his more familiar fare. starstarstar ½


Of Further Interest...

Johnny Cash - Personal File

Willie Nelson - Crazy: The Demo Sessions

Neil Young & the International Harvesters - A Treasure


The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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