The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams

Over the past several months, nearly 20 discs’ worth of archival Hank Williams recordings have been issued. And while nothing can rival an audio resurrection of one of country’s most highly regarded figures, this comes close: a multiple-artist collection of songs reverently created from the last remnants of Hank’s written lyrics, recovered from a well-worn briefcase left behind after he died in the murky pre-dawn hours of New Year’s Day, 1953—stuff of legend, indeed.

Perhaps no song here strikes more deeply than “Blue Is My Heart,” which allows Holly Williams to collaborate and sing with the granddad she never knew, with dad Hank Jr. (in an uncredited appearance) chiming in as both family members use their late forebear’s own words to lament his very absence. As country music drama goes, it doesn’t get any better.

From a strictly musical standpoint, though, it actually does get better on Alan Jackson’s “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too,” which comes as close as we’ll ever get to hearing a brand-new Hank Williams song the way it was intended to be heard.

It’s tempting to want to hear the entire album performed strictly by country acts; songs done by Patty Loveless, Merle Haggard and Vince Gill (joined by Rodney Crowell) also number among the disc’s most satisfying and stylistically accurate offerings. But because Hank’s influence cuts across musical boundaries and eras, it’s appropriate that the disc features a broad, multi-generational cross-section of artists. While opinions will surely vary as to the results, all the efforts included here are respectful and none significantly mar the album’s solidly country essence. Even the least attractive and most un-country voices heard here (let’s not name names) have a unique, soulful quality that makes them suited for the deeply felt sentiments that fill The Lost Notebooks, a package that finds the heart of real country music still beating and Hank’s vital presence anything but lost.

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