The concept is simple enough: reintroduce Hank Thompson to a new generation by teaming him with (mostly) younger performers on a collection of new material and remakes of his old hits. In many cases - and with an unsympathetic producer - this can be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, Thompson has taken his time with the project and, just as importantly, found a strong right arm in producer Bill Millet, whose warm, rich sound is a welcome antidote to the cold digital sheen found on most modern Nashville recordings.
As for the music, Thompson, at 72, puts singers half his age to shame. There's no Frank Sinatra syndrome at work here, where a once-great artist well past his prime was often unable to keep up with his younger singing partners. In short, Thompson sounds great.
What's more, his choice of partners makes sense. His duet with Junior Brown, "Gotta Sell Them Chickens," (the first single) is classic Thompson: witty lyrics and impeccable musicianship. Likewise "Hooked On Honky Tonk" (with Brooks & Dunn), probably the most contemporary-sounding track, would make a strong follow-up single. "Sobering Up," a new composition which Thompson sings solo, stands up as a sequel of sorts to the classic "Six Pack to Go" (which opens the album in a duet with Vince Gill). Special mention should be made of the superb pedal steel work of Bobby Garrett and the guitar work of Thom Bresh, son of the late Merle Travis, whose guitar playing was a major part of Thompson's Capitol recordings in the '40's and '50's. Bresh has his dad's style down pat and his presence is a particularly nice touch in reproducing the feel of Thompson's salad days.
Though the scheduling for the release of "Hank Thompson and Friends" has been maddeningly vague since its original August release date came and went, it's proven to be well worth the wait. In fact, it's fair to say that Thompson has delivered, in these final days of 1997, one of the year's best country releases.