Album Review: Hank Williams — The Legend Begins: Rare and Unreleased Recordings

Juli Thanki | September 21st, 2011

hankthelegendbeginsThe past year or two have been delightful for fans of Hank Williams thanks to the official release of his Mother’s Best radio shows. Now there’s a new collection to feast on. The Legend Begins: Rare and Unreleased Recordings is a three-disc set that includes Williams’ first syndicated radio show, the eight episode “Health and Happiness” series. The shows were recorded with his band The Drifting Cowboys in October 1949 and released, unrestored, in the early 1990s; they’ve since been touched up with the same restoration technology used on The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings box set. The result is a collection that sounds lovely. With these radio shows, there’s obviously some repetition of popular songs (fiddler Jerry Rivers’ take on the instrumental “Sally Goodin” appears seven times on this collection’s first two discs, and “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” kicks off each show), but being able to listen to the shows in their entirety, with music and between-song banter, is a neat look back at country history.

Also included are two recordings—blues song “Fan It” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”—from 1938, when Williams was 15, and four tracks recorded two years later. The lonesome, instantly recognizable voice from classics like “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is detectable in Hank’s boyish vocals, even when cloaked in the hiss and crackle of the decades-old acetate discs. But it’s on the “Health and Happiness” shows that the voice is in full effect on songs like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” a single that wasn’t yet released (it would be a month later as the B-side of “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It”).

Rounding out the collection is a show recorded in 1951 for the March of Dimes, a charity founded to treat children suffering from polio. It includes Williams’ version of the song that made him famous, “Lovesick Blues,” gospel song “When God Dips His Love in My Heart,” a public service announcement about the tragedy of infantile paralysis, and, unfortunately, wife Audrey, whose voice—screech, really—is the equivalent of nails on Satan’s chalkboard.

With detailed liner notes penned by music historian, noted author, and Hank biographer Colin Escott and several photos of a young Williams, The Legend Begins is a treat for eyes and ears alike, not to mention a vital part of country music history.

5 Stars

  1. Sue Santore
    September 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Oh, I want this. I’m going to put it on my Christmas list. Hank Williams is one of my favorite country singers of all time.

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