Created from writings left behind by country music’s “lovesick blues boy,” The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams premieres the first-ever performances of 12 previously unheard Hank Williams lyric compositions newly set to music by 13 artists whose own sensibilities have been profoundly shaped by Williams.
The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project began with the idea of finding a well-known artist, one who felt Hank’s inspiration and influence, to record an album’s worth of the unheard songs. After veteran music industry manager/A&R executive Mary Martin approached Bob Dylan, a natural first choice for the endeavor, the project evolved into a multi-artist tribute providing a variety of sympathetic approaches to this rich mysterious material. Other artists appearing on the album include Jack White, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Alan Jackson and many more.
When Hank Williams died, at the age of 29, in the back of his Cadillac sometime early morning on New Year’s Day 1953, he left behind a scuffed, embroidered brown leather briefcase, which he used to carry bound notebooks, among other items, darkening their pages with lyrics and song ideas. Some were fully finished, some just started.
The odyssey of Hank Williams’ notebooks is recounted in the album’s liner notes, penned by Michael McCall from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, who observes, “The history of Hank’s notebooks is as complex as the legend himself. Yet, in the end, what matters most are the songs, and these new works rise from the ether with ghostly relevance. As with his many standards, these new recordings tap straight into the soul of man. This is songwriting at its most artful and most powerful.”
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91 of 94 people found the following review helpful.
Hank Williams – A startling reincarnation guided by Bob Dylan
By Red on Black
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.
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful.
A Pitcher of Water
By Michael John Kennedy
This music is delightful. 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.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful.
An audio treasure, a nod to Hank
The best radio station in the country, WMNF in Tampa, played Jack White’s contribution and I immediately knew that I had to have this album. Characteristically the WMNF DJ (Marcie Finkelstein) took the time to describe the project and how Bob Dylan had set the rules and that all artists had to agree to not change Hank’s lyrics. Within that framework and seeing the list of artists I purchased it that day. I was not disappointed and this CD will be played many times and even talked about to friends and family. The diversity of musical styles is welcome and pleasing in their own right and yet each and every artist somehow finds a way to bring back the memory of a vibrant and talented Hank Williams. What we lost in our musical culture with his untimely passing we will never really know, but this collaboration hints at it. Bob Dylan is to be commended for spearheading this project and the other artists have created lasting and living tributes to the real Hank Williams. In my opinion this album adds to the legacy and legend of Hank Williams and I would put this on the gift list for any fan of real country music as well as fans of Americana and singer-songwriters.
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