Street-Sounds: Hank’s lost years recaptured

Various artists come together to perform on Hank Williams' The Lost Notebooks.

In a risk-taking project that the long dead country music legend Hank Williams would’ve approved of, 13 musicians have “collaborated” on some of Williams’ uncompleted and unrecorded songs.

These songs (basically lyrics) were unearthed or rediscovered in notebooks in a box sitting in a vault inside a Music Row building in Nashville.

One of the artists, Bob Dylan, was approached to finish and record the material and suggested other singers as well. From there on the curious resurrection and restoration began.

The integrity is here as people who have an affinity with Williams’ sound and legacy were brought in: Dylan, Lucinda Williams (no relation), Jack White, Merle Haggard, Rodney Crowell, Holly Williams (granddaughter), Levon Helm and others. Because they are dealing with Hank Williams, a certain respect is observed.

It’s down to emotion. Who brings it? Who brings the high lonesome that ol’ Hank dealt in?

It’s sparse and mournful, and the quavering voice of Lucinda Williams captures a haunted and dusty track (I’m So Happy I Found You) that should be heard on a Victrola in a deserted farmhouse.

Williams’ themes of betrayal, sorrows and secrets are honoured as performers connect with his resonance in lingering fusion.

Levon Helm’s frayed voice adds a swampy disregard to You’ll Never Be Mine Again that veers off from the waltz beat favoured on many of the songs.  Dylan’s ragged vocal is a weird instrument on its own and he gives The Love That Faded an easy, straight-ahead reading.

The 12 tracks are notable for consistency in content and sound: joy and sorrow and a bare bones style that stays rooted in forms that haven’t been worked in over 60 years.

Despite the different studios, musicians and producers, the spell remains strong enough to create sympathetic and uniform readings in all of the songs.

Communication is strong, and the musicians cast Williams’ words in a way in which he would appreciate.

–– Dean Gordon-Smith is a local musician who writes weekly album reviews for The Morning Star.