This three-disc set returns to domestic print the two discs of live radio performances previously anthologized on the 1993 Heath & Happiness Shows. These programs were remastered from transcription discs cut in October 1949 at the Castle studio in Nashville, and though there are a few minor audio artifacts, the sound quality â€“ particularly the instrumental balance of the Drifting Cowboys and the presence of Williamsâ€™ voice â€“ is exceptional. Each of the eight shows stretched to 15 minutes, when augmented by ad copy read by a local announcer; here they clock in a few minutes shorter. Williams opens each program with the Sons of the Pioneersâ€™ â€œHappy Rovinâ€™ Cowboyâ€ and fiddler Jerry Rivers closes each episode with the instrumental â€œSally Goodinâ€.
In between the opening and closing numbers, Williams sings some of his best-loved early hits, original songs, and gospel numbers, and much like the later performances gathered on The Complete Mothersâ€™ Best Recordingsâ€¦ Plus! (or its musical-excerpt version, The Unreleased Recordings), the spontaneity and freshness of the live takes often outshine the better-known studio recordings. Williamsâ€™ wife Audrey accompanies him on a few duets and sings a couple of challenging solo slots; Jerry Rivers shines both as an accompanist and in short solo highlights. As with the Mothersâ€™ Best shows, Williams is revealed to be not only a revered singer and songwriter, but a master host and entertainer.
The setâ€™s third disc includes a dozen rare Williams recordings. From 1938, a fifteen-year-old Williams is heard singing the novelty number â€œFan Itâ€ and the then-current movie theme â€œAlexanderâ€™s Ragtime Band.â€ These are rough recordings, but a priceless opportunity to hear just how precocious Williams was as a teenager. Two years later Williams recorded a number of home demos, including the four standards covered here. The recording quality is tinny and the discs are far from pristine, but theyâ€™re clear enough to reveal the adult Hank Williams voice beginning to emerge. The final six tracks jump ahead eleven years, past the Health & Happiness shows to a March of Dimes show from 1951.
The Health & Happiness recordings havenâ€™t always had a healthy or happy history. MGM released overdubbed versions in 1961, and the 1993 reissue was plagued by physical problems with the transcriptions. But as with the Mothersâ€™ Best release, Joe Palmaccio has deftly resuscitated ephemeral, sixty-year-old recordings with his restoration and remastering magic. Given that these discs were only meant to last through a radio broadcast or two, their picture of a twenty-six-year-old Williams just breaking into Nashville is astonishing. Those with an earlier reissue will value the sonic upgrade, historic bonus tracks, 4-panel digipack, 16-page booklet and detailed liner notes from Williams biographer Colin Escott. [Â©2011 hyperbolium dot com]