Various - The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams
Like many old music legends Hank Williams Sr. seemed to embody the lonesome, itinerant heartbroken drifters that inhabited his songs. Dead at the ridiculously young age of 29, he nonetheless left a legacy of some of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful songs ever to grace this humble earth. His influence goes beyond the crass barriers of musical genres and can be felt in the work of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan and The White Stripes, to name but a few.
And like many great legends the songs that make up this collection begin with a mystery: a notebook, found in a Sony Music dumpster, no doubt part of the collection of notebooks Williams carried around with him in a battered old suitcase that contained all his song ideas. This project, headed by Dylan himself, sees these lost lyrics resurrected and set to music, and God what a treat it is. The artists wisely do not attempt to "modernize" the music, leaving most of the arrangements feeling authentic. At times it seems as if old Hank is singing to you himself, as in the wonderful 'You've Been Lonesome, Too' interpreted by Allan Jackson or Dylan's take on 'The Love That Faded' and Jack White's heartbreaking rendition of 'You Know that I Know' replete with some pretty excellent guitar work.
The ladies step up to base as well. Norah Jones' beautifully effective performance on 'How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?' and Lucinda Williams pouring her heart out on 'I'm So Happy I found You', the fragility in her voice adding a winsomeness to the song as if she fears this happiness may not last. Other highlights include Levon Helm's 'You'll Never Again Be Mine' and Merle Haggard's show-stopping 'The Sermon on the Mount'.
There are a couple of clunkers that mar the album's otherwise near perfection. Jacko Dylan's listless 'Oh, Mama, Come Home' and Sheryl Crow's frankly terrible 'Angel Mine' should be skipped at all costs. How they ended up in the final mix is a greater mystery than how the notebook ended up in the dumpster to begin with.
If you can put those oversights behind you then the rest of the album is a gem. Glorious heartbreak music like only Hank Williams could do. It is no fluke that this man was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Great music knows no bounds, no barriers. And this collection proves it.