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Review: The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Review: The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Hank Williams pens sixty-sixty songs, scattered throughout four notebooks. He dies in the back of his Cadillac at the age of 29, leaving behind the unfinished work. The notebooks are stuck in a vault in Nashville. Fifty years later, Bob Dylan has them.

It almost sounds like a far-fetched, country tale, but with the release of The Lost Notebooks, a legend is brought to life again with the help his disciples.

It’s a good thing Williams’ material wound up in the hands of the right person, because this is fragile subject matter for music aficionados.  Of course, with his film effort, Masked and Anonymous,  Bob Dylan proved that if he’s heading a project, the right people will be involved and get the job done, no matter the magnitude.

Perhaps as a throwback to his character in that film, Jack Fate, Dylan, who had first dibs on the songs, decided to turn what Hank might have crooned as a ballad, into a depressing old-timey waltz. Then again, in recent years, he seems to have made it something of a habit coming across as a love-lost old man.

With “The Love That Faded,” one can almost imagine a solitary Dylan, suited up in western wear as his altar ego, sadly peering out from the shadows as couples dance to the forlorn and cryptic music he created.  Dylan, like Williams, is that kind of songwriter. One who can evoke deep imagery and mood with little more than simple chord progression.

Vocally, Levon Helm is a master of just that.  “You’ll Never Be Mine Again” sounds like Helm’s about to roll up to his barn on a tractor to drink sweet tea, pull up a hay bale and jam with some hillbillies.

There’s something about the former (The) Band drummer’s tone that just sounds like the South and with this cool breeze of a tune, he’s managed to nicely marry his signature style with that of his Alabama born predecessor.

Alternately, Jakob Dylan must have forgotten that Hank couldn’t attend this party. It’s one thing for an artist add their own flavor to a collaboration, but  with  “Oh, Mama, Come Home,” Dylan has turned what lyrically comes across as a commanding honky-tonk into a soothing, gentle lullaby. His delivery just isn’t true to the words and he’s created what although may be good, isn’t Hank Williams. Rather, it’s The Wallflowers.

On the purer side of things, like her grandfather, Holly Williams successfully brought  the hurt with the classically titled, “Blue Is My Heart,” and Bluegrass  Grammy winner, Patty Loveless, stayed true to the spirit with the yodel-rific, “You’re Through Fooling Me.”  Surprisingly, Nashville churned out two solid songs when Alan Jackson kept it real with the authentic, “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too”  and Jack White (ok, he’s not really Nashville) brought the twangy tremolo to “You Know That I Know.”

However, if one’s name isn’t Johnny Cash, then chances are it isn’t a good idea to bring a horn section into a Hank Williams session. It seems someone forgot to give Cheryl Crow that memo, because “Angel Mine”  certainly didn’t come from Heaven. But, the album’s closing track, Merle Haggard’s “Sermon on the Mount” did.

To put it simply, if Hank Williams is the God of Country Music, then Merle  Haggard is Moses delivering his message.

This record really needed him and his Jesus song.  And with that said, brothers and sisters, amen and Hallelujah for the Hank and the Hag!


Artists who appear on The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams: Alan Jackson, Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Jack White, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Levon Helm, Holly Williams, Jacob Dylan, Cheryl Crow, Merle Haggard. To preview or purchase the album, visit: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Notebooks-Hank-Williams/dp/B005F23NMK



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