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Lost Hank Williams

Rare recordings released on CD

Hank's wife, Audrey, is a frequent guest on shows early in the year and then not so much. The only thing more surprising than Audrey's lack of talent is Hank and the boys' enthusiastic response to her turns at the microphone. Jett Williams, a singer herself, is diplomatic. "My dad said it best: 'The only thing worse than having a wife who wants to sing is having one who can't.'"

At this point in his career, young Hank Williams was artistically bridging the gap between hillbilly music and what would come to be known as rock 'n' roll. The Mother's Best version of Hank's Drifting Cowboys band featured Don Helms on pedal-steel guitar, Jerry Rivers on fiddle and Sammy Pruett on guitar. These were musicians equally comfortable with Western swing, incendiary fiddle breakdowns, heavenly hymns and traditional tunes (including the best version of "On Top of Old Smokey" you'll ever hear).

The shows have a thrilling improvised spirit, as Hank changes keys and tunes on the spot. At one point, Hank asks the band to kick off his "I Saw the Light." They oblige, but Williams starts singing "Jesus Remembered Me" instead. You can't rewind acetate, unfortunately, so Hank stops and apologizes with a self-deprecating joke about writing many songs with the same melody before starting over.

The Complete Mother's Best Recordings…Plus! also includes a DVD in which Jett Williams interviews Don Helms, singer Big Bill Lister, and WSM engineer Glenn Snoddy. The real rarity, however, is "Stars in Her Eyes," a long-lost, 14-minute public-service announcement Williams sings and recites about the perils of venereal disease. Like everything else in this amazing box tricked out to look like a vintage radio, it offers a rare glimpse into the rich Southern culture Hank Williams epitomized.


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