Hank Williams was country music's first true superstar, and his songs were a remarkable synthesis of hillbilly elements with a dose of blues and gospel, and a clear awareness of Tin Pan Alley techniques, all delivered with a postmodern sensibility that understood that sex and image were a big part of the whole package. He was also heavily conflicted -- much like later soul singers Marvin Gaye and Al Green -- between the secular and the sacred, even going so far as creating a separate persona, Luke the Drifter, to deliver a series of dark, frightening sermons on the dangers of yielding to Saturday night temptation. But yield Williams did, and this tortured soul turned his contradictions into stunning songs like the elegant "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" -- which is as tightly written as a haiku -- and the eerily prophetic "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive." Williams remains the single most important artist in the history of country music, but every shooting star has its beginnings, and this delightful three-disc set charts the very beginnings of Williams' productive but brief career. Imagine hearing a scratchy recording of Williams singing and fronting an accordion-based swing band at the age of 15 -- "Fan It," which appears on the third disc here, is exactly that, and so we can mark 1938, the year it was tracked, as the nascent birth of modern country music. Most of this set is made up of live material done for the Health and Happiness radio show in 1949 and after, and many of the cuts don't feature Williams at all, but feature instead Jerry Rivers wrapping his blazing fiddle around traditional fare like "Old Joe Clark" and "Sally Goodin," but there is still plenty of Williams here, and his singing is relaxed, poignant, and solid. He was just becoming a star and his lifestyle had yet to consume him. Also included here are four previously unreleased recordings from 1940, including a fun take on "Greenback Dollar," and a half-dozen tracks from a March of Dimes radio show broadcast in 1951, all of which makes this package both a treasure trove for Williams fans and collectors, as well as a valuable archival glimpse at the musical beginning of the greatest and brightest shooting star that country music has ever known.