Review: “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams,” Various Artists

Tribute albums are in abundant supply in my music library lately. In the last few years I’ve gotten compilations in which artists paid homage to The Ramones, Buddy Holly, John Prine, Shel Silverstein, Nirvana and Pink Floyd just to name a few.

Record Rating 7.5 of 10

They’re rarely ever bad. You happily comb through the track list and you see one of your favorite  artists covering an old song that you haven’t heard in a while. Todd Snider’s version of “A Boy Name Sue” comes to mind. Snider is a great story teller, Sue’s is a great story. And great + great = great, right?

But when the final track has played, all those covers are fairly forgettable and you find the originals infinitely more satisfying.

That’s one of the things that made me take a second look at “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams.” It’s a tribute for sure but one that features a collection of originals.

The story goes that Bob Dylan came by a notebook full of songs that Williams had left unfinished when he died at the age of 29. He then brought together an eclectic group of artists – Alan Jackson, Norah Jones, Jack White, Sheryl Crow and others – to finish and record the songs.

Most of the tracks are comprised of simple melodies that are reminiscent of Williams’ bygone style. They’re all a bit too long to be songs from his era – with six of them coming in at more than three minutes – but that’s OK because songs were too short back then anyway.

For me there were a lot of surprises.

Jackson, an artist for whom I have little affection, opens the album with a track full of the kind of brilliantly phrased lines that have made Williams one of my all time favorites.

“If your heart has known such pain, until for death it’s cried/only to have the lord refuse, then you’ve been near my side,” he sings.

On the other hand White – probably my favorite artist on the record – left me disappointed. He delivers the chorus of “You Know That I Know” with a trembling voice that feels borrowed. It’s not anything I’ve ever heard The White Stripes frontman do before and it sounds way too much like Williams’ tremble on “Lost Highway.”

Crow’s offering on the record was also strong. If you’re into Williams’ gospel works, the Merle Haggard track is worth a listen, as well.

Half the fun of the album is trying to figure out which parts Williams wrote and which parts were added by the contemporary artist. The end result is a pretty great collection, especially for those looking for something different in a country album.

– David A. Mann

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About hoosierhits
The music blog of the News and Tribune, Jeffersonville & New Albany, Ind.

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