Hank Williams – “The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings Plus!”

Album Reviews | Nov 22nd, 2011

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Record Label: Time Life Recordings
Genre: Country
Band Link: www.timelife.com
Buy on Amazon.com

This box set is simply astounding. Cleverly packaged like a 1950s radio (with a working and prerecorded dial), this box is a treasure trove.

Fifteen – count them, FIFTEEN – CDs are here, entirely of previously unreleased recordings, which haven’t been heard in over 60 years! This volume increases all currently available Hank Williams music by 50%. For Hank fans, this is like the musical equivalent of discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls – a whole other book of scripture and a new way to interpret what is already known.

The CDs encompass the full Mother’s Best Flour Show radio programs, which featured Hank Williams and his band live every morning from 7:15 – 7:30. Broadcast out of Nashville in 1951, most of the 15-minute programs included a country song, an instrumental, and a gospel song, interspersed with commercials for Mother’s Best. This box set collects 72 programs – over 18 hours of music. The recordings are surprisingly clean and crisp – in many cases, even better than his official output.

What might interest fans the most, though, is the between-song banter between Hank and his band, which give more than a glimpse of Hank’s personality (more chipper and jokey than I would have expected) and the time and place in which he lived. The music is fantastic, but this box doubles as a history lesson. This is much more than a snapshot of 1951 America – it is a fully packed living photo album.

The accompanying 100-page book is the best I’ve ever encountered in a box set. Not just a vapid collection of photos and memorabilia, the text walks the reader through each CD, giving in-depth background and context to the radio programs, the songs and covers, and even the references and in-jokes during the on-air banter. The Hank Williams completist will have a joygasm.

The set also includes a DVD that features Hank’s daughter Jett discussing these recordings with two members of his band and a sound engineer who worked on the program. (I haven’t watched it yet.)

Box sets tend to be a novelty – this one is a necessity. Whoever curated it is clearly a loving fan and intelligent historian. The dedication, care, and quality that went into this package are manifest throughout.

You can find this box on sale or used on Amazon, but even at its retail price of $200, it’s a steal.

Bottom Line: A bright star in my lonesome heart.
Notable Tracks: Just too many to count. Every song is a joy.
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