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Leon Russell

Best of Hank Wilson – 2009 (Leon Russell Records)

Reviewed by Robert Loy

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CDs by Leon Russell

To the casual observer it might seem odd that Leon Russell thinks he needs an alter ego for his country records, since everything he's ever done, including his hits in the 70's like Tightrope and Lady Blue never lacked for twang. But a closer look at the Hank Wilson nom du banjo itself (chosen to honor two of country's greatest Hanks - Williams and Thompson) as well as the track listings - absolutely indisputable classics such as Sixteen Tons, Heartaches by the Number, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and I'm Movin' On and it becomes clear that Wilson puts on his Hank hat when he just wants to have some fun playing the music he cut his teeth on.

Admittedly, Russell's gravelly Oklahoma baritone is something of an acquired taste, but the songs selected, and Russell's obvious love for them and determination to do right by them ensure that his growl will grow on all but the most closed-minded of listeners. There have been four Hank Wilson albums released since 1973 and while you can't quibble with any of the song choices here - they've all stood the test of time - inevitable somebody's favorites get left off any greatest hits collection. (it would have been nice to include some of the gospel stuff Wilson covered, like I Saw The Light and On The Wings of a Dove.) But if that's the worst criticism that can be laid at Wilson's door, there's an easy remedy. Go buy the original four Hank Wilson CDs.

And if you already have the first four CDs, this album is still probably worth the price of purchase for the three new tracks - San Antonio Rose, You Win Again and (especially) The Ballad of Jed Clampett. After staying absolutely faithful to all the other songs Hank has some fun with the Flatt and Scruggs TV theme song, even changing some of the lyrics to ribald and hilarious effect.