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Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings (Time Life)

If you had a musical wish, what would it be? That Jimi Hendrix had lived to record a dozen more albums? That you had been at CBGBs when punk was new? That dozens of unreleased Hank Williams recordings would suddenly come to light? Well, this three-disc set from Time Life is a surprising wish come true. The owners of WSM Radio in Nashville were purging old, “worthless” recordings from their archives when they discovered this treasure trove of 72 Hank Williams tracks that were recorded in 1951 for the Mother’s Best radio program. Whereas most radio performances in 1951 probably would have been broadcast live, these tracks were recorded by radio engineers to be broadcast while Williams was on the road, as Williams’ daughter, Jett Williams (who has her own fascinating story to tell), explains in the liner notes. The masters have been carefully and beautifully restored, complete with occasional intros and outros by Williams. From a tender version of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” to soulful gospel like “Softly Tenderly” to the painful emotion of “Cold, Cold Heart,” this box is revelation—Williams at the absolute peak of his too-short career.

Reissue producer: Colin Scott. Acetate disc transfers: Alan Stoker, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (Nashville). Restoration and mastering: Joe Palmaccio, The Place…for Mastering (Nashville).

—Barbara Schultz