'The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams'
- Article by: Daryl Sanders
- Posted: 10/28/2011
Messing with music history is always risky business — just ask Alan Douglas, the producer who added new backing tracks to Jimi Hendrix recordings by musicians who never knew the guitar god. So the very concept of modern singer-songwriters completing unfinished Hank Williams material is fraught with risk.
But that is exactly what was done with the new collection, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, which was released earlier this month. During his life, Williams recorded his lyrical ideas in a number of notebooks which became the property of his publisher, Acuff-Rose, after his death. These notebooks, considered priceless, were kept safe in a fireproof vault. The Acuff-Rose catalog was acquired in the 1985 by Gaylord Broadcasting, who then sold it to Sony/ATV Music Publishing in 2002.
Not long after that, legendary A&R executive Mary Martin became aware of the existence of Williams’ notebooks and envisioned an album of Williams’ material completed and performed by her old friend Bob Dylan. When she approached Dylan with the concept, he liked the idea, but wanted to involve other singer-songwriters, so that’s how the project evolved.
As one would expect, several country and rootsy singer-songwriters were asked to participate, including Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams, Levon Helm and Merle Haggard.
But there also was a number of artists from the world of pop and rock who took part in the project, and their presence on the record has been the cause of more than a few raised eyebrows. Norah Jones, Jakob Dylan, Jack White and Sheryl Crow are not the first artists who come to mind as potential posthumous collaborators with Hank Williams, but they did not disappoint.
On “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?” Jones surprisingly shows she could easily be a huge country diva, if she so chose. And White, who has a few country and roots projects on his studio vitae (Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson), shines on his collaboration with Williams, the cheeky “You Know That I Know.”
The collection also features one of Williams’ grandchildren, singer-songwriter Holly Williams. Her collaboration with her grandfather, “Blue Is My Heart,” includes backing vocals from her father, Hank Williams Jr.
On Dylan’s cowrite, “The Love That Faded,” his pained vocals suggest he himself has lived William’s expression of love past. Levon Helm’s collaboration, “You’ll Never Again Be Mine,” is a reminder of how much Williams’ songs informed the music of The Band.
It is easy to question the very premise of this project, but artistically, it passes one important test: All the tracks on The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams sound authentic; it’s easy to imagine the legend himself singing every song on the collection.