Seeing as how Hank Williams has been dead for 45 years, you’d think by now that everything that could have been released by country music’s greatest icon would have been released by now.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of Williams’s birthday (Sept. 17), Mercury/Nashville is releasing what must be the final word on his work, and judging from a sample listening from the 10-CD box set due out Sept. 22, this really should be the final word. Really. We mean it this time. It is, literally and figuratively, all here: 225 songs, including 53 previously unissued tunes (where the heck have they been hiding all these years?) that include non-session, radio and television recordings. The packaging includes two booklets with more than 130 pages featuring more than 120 photos, liner notes by Williams historian/box set producer Colin Escott, handwritten lyrics, original ads, posters, charts, LP covers, Hank Williams life timeline, chart history, you name it. Of course, the big question is, is such a big box set checking in at $170 worth it? Well, consider that Williams, in a very abbreviated career, set the tone for an untold number of future country artists both with his signature vocals and songwriting that cut to the heart of the music itself. Williams virtually defined the heartache song, both in his own singing, his own songwriting and his takes on the Acuff/Rose material that provided the foundation of his work. Some even accuse some of his early penned songs as being way too mature not to have been written by Acuff or Rose. We have easily taken for granted the pain and experience in William’s songs, especially considering the fact that he died at the age of 30 — women and alcohol problems notwithstanding. And, when you consider what many music experts call the “haphazard” way in which previous Williams compilations have been presented, it’s good to know that you probably can’t get any better than this. And since Williams towers over all who have followed, isn’t that fitting?