Album review: ‘The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams’
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If you have a long road trip to take to see an old lover who ripped out your heart, who probably doesn’t want to see you or doesn’t know you’re on the way and might not even live in that scrapheap of a town anymore, then “The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams” is the album to play on repeat.
The forefather of sad-sack country doesn’t appear on the record in physical voice, but his spirit looms in his lyrics that were used as the basis for these 12 tracks sung by a variety of kindred weepers and moaners, including Bob Dylan, Alan Jackson, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams and Jack White.
Dylan helped spearhead these songs to completion, and his raggedy contribution, “The Love That Faded,” is one of the best. Set to a barroom waltz, his ravaged voice lends authority to a line like, “My love was wasted, I’m paying the cost.” His son, Jakob, finds the sweet spot between finger-picked lullaby and sorrowful pleading on “Oh, Mama, Come Home.”
The Dylan family isn’t the only musical brood represented here; Holly Williams, the granddaughter of Williams, Sr., turns in a heartfelt “Blue Is My Heart,” though her father’s bloated baritone in the background almost threatens the song’s delicate balance.
Though some of the singers struggle with adding fullness to lyrics that could sound overly simplistic in the wrong hands, the legacy of Williams seems most alive, in almost a ventriloquist form, in Alan Jackson’s “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too.” With trotting rhythms and aching fiddle and steel guitar, Williams himself seems to be present, tipping his hat in respect before he disappears into the amber sunset once again.
“The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams”
Three stars (Out of four)
— Margaret Wappler