In 1998, Mercury Records released The Complete Hank Williams, an awe inspiring ten-disc box set many thought was the final word on country music’s first superstar. In the interim, someone unearthed transcription discs of his 1951 WSM radio show, which were only 15 minutes long and sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour. The discovery increases Williams’ known recordings by 143.
Time-Life has now issued a three-disc set comprised of 54 of these entitled The Unreleased Recordings, with promises of eventually releasing the entire treasure trove. If you’re familiar with Health & Happiness Shows, similar radio transcriptions from 1949 that were released in their entirety on a two-disc set in 1993, you might think you know what to expect with the Mother’s Best shows.
These are different. For one, the sound quality is outstanding, perhaps better than Hank’s studio work. The other is the range of the material, from non-Williams composed tunes of the day (“Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain,” “Cherokee Boogie,” “Cool Water”) to deep gospel and religious tunes to surprising versions of songs he's well known for, including what seems to be the first known recording of “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You).” With lots of historical photos and an illuminating essay by Williams’ biographer Colin Escot, The Unreleased Recordings continues the loving way the Williams estate has handled his legacy. If there’s a country music lover on your Christmas list, it’ll look mighty nice under this year’s tree.
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