Turn Back The Years: The Essential Hank Williams Collection
The recorded legacy of Hank Williams has been delivered on disc in many ways, but the thematic arrangement of three-disc collection makes for a strikingly coherent presentation. The hard-edged Hank, who brought honky-tonk music to its aesthetic and spiritual apex -- and in the process provided the foundation for rockabilly and hence rock 'n' roll -- is illuminated on Disc 1, titled Honky Tonkin'. In addition to a couple of cautionary high-steppers from Luke the Drifter ("I've Been Down That Road Before" and "Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals"), there are rousing, indisputable high-heat classics dotting the song selection -- monuments such as the disc's title song, "I'm a Long Gone Daddy," "Lost Highway," the Hank Jr.-less "There's a Tear in My Beer," and the timeless "Honky Tonk Blues." The ways of the heart are vividly accounted for on Disc 2, Cold, Cold Heart, which unfolds 20 tracks that defined the country tear-jerker for modern times, right up to the present. "Lovesick Blues," "A Mansion on the Hill," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and "Cold, Cold Heart" are supported by the winsome "Let's Turn Back the Years" and bluesy entreaties on the order of "You Win Again" -- all beautifully conceived and executed, with soul and craftsmanship to burn. Arguably the most moving performances the father of country music ever committed to tape are on Disc 3, I Saw the Light, featuring 20 choice spiritual numbers, many of them philosophically probing humankind's readiness to meet its maker. One rarity here is the duet by Hank and his wife, Audrey, on "The Pale Horse and His Rider"; otherwise, this is an excellent accounting of the range of Hank Sr.'s work in this area, from rousing celebrations of salvation such as "I Saw the Light" to the chilling ruminations "Drifting Too Far from the Shore" and "Angel of Death." Sixty recordings, digitally remastered, plus a solid background essay by co-producer Colin Escott make this a first-rate retrospective of a hands-down legend.