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Hank Williams

Live at the Grand Ole Opry – 1999 (Mercury)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Hank Williams

These two discs of Hank Williams are fascinating on several levels. There's nothing new musically. In fact, several cuts were previously released on various compilations. But to hear Williams in the context of Grand Ole Opry broadcasts transports us back to a time when he was merely a rising star, not the mythological figure he has become.

The first disc contains excerpts from programs between 1949 and 1952, most of which survive because they were recorded for re-broadcast on Armed Forces Radio. We mainly hear Williams doing stellar versions of his hits, but we are also treated to banter between Williams and host Red Foley as well as comedy bits with Minnie Pearl and Rod Brasfield. It is when Williams was subbing as host for Foley that he was allowed to do more unfamiliar material, as he performed "Let the Spirit Descend" and "The Old Country Church" during what Williams referred to as "hymn time."

While the first cd spotlights Williams, on disc two, listeners will be able to experience radio as it was a half century ago with a complete broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry. In addition to a couple of songs by guest star Williams, host Foley performs three tunes. Other musical guests are Claude Sharpe and the Hickory Singers and Wally Fowler and the Oak Ridge Quartet (which evolved into the Oak Ridge Boys). Pearl is again on hand for a comedy routine, as are Jamup and Honey - a black-faced duo that reminds us that the good old days weren't always so good.

Not only does this serve as a testament to Hank Williams' status as county music's greatest performer, but it also documents the era when the Grand Ole Opry was country music's preeminent showcase.