After his death in 1953, Hank Williams, became less a performer than a post-mortem brand name wherein his basic personality as an artist was increasingly downplayed and diminished. This remarkably enjoyable three-CD set, drawn from warmly remastered acetates - featuring occasional surface noise - of the old Mother's Best radio show, showcases much of that nearly lost essence.
Supported by his regular collaborators the Drifting Cowboys, Williams brings surprising drive to live renditions his great early hits, Move It On Over, Mind Your Own Business and >i>Why Don't You Love Me. Brilliantly raw, these jump-inspired sides, along with the jivey Nobody's Lonesome for Me and Moanin' The Blues, display rockabilly intentions years before Elvis Presley defined the genre.
However, as a straight tear-in-your beer country singer, Williams had few peers. Sporting a deeper voice than heard on his MGM releases, the Alabama-born singer songwriter sounds like he is freshly gazing into the gaping maw of heartache emoting such classics as They'll Never Take Her Love From Me, Cold Cold Heart, and I've Just Told Mama Goodbye. Moreover, his ability to imbue old-time gospel favorites ala Farther Along, I Heard My Savior Calling Me and T. Texas Tyler's Deck of Cards with sanctified testimony galore.
A born radio performer who read commercials as if he were giving a helpful hint to a neighbor, Williams's on-air personality defined the word folksy. Further, he was a master comic and tragedian. Indeed, while basically blowing the cover on his spoken word alter-ego Luke the Drifter, the artist provokes both rueful chuckles and tears.
Each disc features a full-length Mother's Best show and Williams biographer Colin Escott supplies a well-researched set of booklet notes replete with rare photographs. Yet, it is the late artist himself who proves most memorable. Whether singing from the gut about God, mother, or lost love, making funny self-deprecating remarks or calling his fiddle-player Jerry Rivers "burrhead," Williams' down home charisma completely renews his star power for modern audiences.