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Hank Williams
The Complete Hank Williams
Mercury 10xCD 536077, 1998

Grab your hankie

Tom Netherland

Country music's Mother Lode is now available for fans to devour.  The Complete Hank Williams, a massive ten-disc, 225-song collection that is as essential to country fans as the Bible is to Christians, once and for all makes the case that after Hank, no one else has quite matched him.

Hank Williams' talent has baffled and enthralled people for over a half century. Since his death in the back seat of a Cadillac en route to a show in West Virginia on January 1, 1953 at the tender age of 29, a litany of artists have tried to recapture what seemed to come so natural to the tortured Alabaman. Some impersonated him, others emulated, and others even more simply tried to be a chip off the old block. They all failed.

But who can blame them for having tried. No one else has come up with a song as simply poetic, yet powerful as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," a tune that many hold to be country's greatest. Or how about "Cold, Cold Heart," "You Win Again," or "Your Cheatin' Heart"? Most performers would give a right arm to have written but one of those. Hank just gave his soul.

Four of the collection's discs contain Williams' canon of studio material. Others compile demos, radio performances, concerts and his lone television performance on the Kate Smith Evening Hour. Of particular interest is Hank's  Grand Ole Opry debut (performing a spirited "Lovesick Blues") should delight acolytes.

There is but one complaint tied to this anthology. It is not complete, as the title says. While it does contain each of Williams' studio tracks, there are a number of live performances not included, for varying reasons. For example, a scant five tracks from his  Health & Happiness Shows, forty-nine recordings recorded live over Nashville's WSM radio in October 1949, are included. Also, there exists an unspecified number of demos in the possession of a one-time Drifting Cowboy (Hank's band), who, though prodded, would not authorize their inclusion.

But that's nit-picking. A sizable essay by noted biographer Colin Escott, alongside rare photographs and photocopies of things such as Hank's death certificate, make up for any holes the set may have. The collection's ten discs are produced with the respect they so richly deserve, housed in a hardback book that includes detailed recording information. Box sets simply do not come any better.

Despite the set's $139.99 list price, no self-respecting country music fan should be without this collection. In fact, music fans in general would also greatly benefit by picking up a copy and perusing its multi-tiered levels of feeling and emotion. After all, though Hank Williams is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, he is also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Glenn Brooks says... For someone who doesn't need over nine hours worth of Hank–at least, not yet–I asked Tom what he'd recommend. He replied:

If one was to buy just one Hank CD, they would be best advised to purchase his  20 Greatest Hits album. Absolutely essential stuff. If two CDs are in order, then  Vol. 2 of Hank's greatest would naturally follow. It simply does not come better. But you know, the box set is flat-out the best. I've been a real serious Hank listener and collector for some time, and there were things on there I'd never even heard of–much less heard–before. His tune "Six More Miles To The Graveyard," on the box, is my current fave of the more obscure tunes.

Copyright © 2000 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.