Tall, charismatic, and eschewing rustic hillbilly stage outfits in favor of sleek, tailored Nudie suits, Hank Williams was country music's first true superstar, and he was more than aware that a little motion on-stage drove the ladies crazy. But it is Williams' songwriting that has ensured his legacy more than anything, and his songs -- which mixed hillbilly elements with blues and gospel, all with a firm grasp of how to shade in some Tin Pan Alley techniques -- crossed over regularly to the pop charts, and have continued to hold up well even into the 21st century. Songs like "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," which has a spare, poetic structure so efficient it could be a haiku, and "I'll Never Get out of This World Alive," which manages to be funny, ironic, and prophetically frightening all at once, don't happen by accident, and show an awareness of craft that has a good deal more in common with Irving Berlin
than it does Uncle Dave Macon
. This two-disc overview of Williams' career includes his classic MGM and Polydor singles from 1947 to 1952, a handful of haunting acoustic demos (which show him to be a quite capable acoustic guitarist), a couple of his Luke the Drifter
cuts, and a half-dozen or so live spots from the Grand Ole Opry
(in 1950) and Health & Happiness
(in 1949) radio shows. Thankfully it includes none of the string-sweetened overdubbed versions that proliferated after Williams' death, and given the number of dubious and rather thrown-together Hank Williams collections on the market, Gold
earns trust points for being both thorough and tasteful.