Even in these days of instant access to everything via the Internet, endless music playlists, video streaming and short-form easily-digestible informational news-nuggets, it is very — very — easy to overlook important details. It is also easy to forget history as we seek the so called “Reader’s Digest” abridged info-bite that summarizes a story.
In that light, it is refreshing to see how BMG — the giant international music publisher — is offering some super deluxe packages which go directly against that grain, combining physical hard-bound paper books and music together.
Books… ‘member them?
In some ways this is not entirely a “new thing” as boxed sets with nice books inside have been around for years. The difference here is in the design: BMG has crafted several nice table top editions for you to explore while listening to the music also included in the set. In many ways, the book is the primary focus here, an essential element in the package.
You can put away your iPad or laptop for browsing the web while listening — most everything you need is self contained in the book. It forces you to focus, to take the time to — in the words of Patsy Cline — “stop, look and listen.”
Recently I reviewed a fine study of a revered release by Marty Stuart called The Pilgrim (click here if you missed it). This package paired a single restored CD of his landmark 1999 album with a lush, nearly 200-page book telling the story of the artist’s history and the record’s genesis in pictures and words. This book went a long way to bringing me into Mr. Stuart’s universe and journey. This package helped make me a fan of the album! Most every picture in the book told a significant story..
Another legendary artist now receiving this book-and-music treatment is none other than Hank Williams, the influential Country-Western singer, songwriter and guitarist who died too young but left an enormous legacy of songs which have influenced generations. The amount of Williams’ music that has surfaced in recent years is genuinely daunting but a welcome bounty for fans.
Last year, Omnivore Recordings put out a fine set which I reviewed featuring live recordings from 1950 (sponsored by an elixir named Hadocol) called The Complete Health & Happiness Shows. Over three LPS or two CDs you could hear some fine quality transcription discs which had been transferred over and remastered. Click here if you want to read more about that in my review.
Now, that same production team — producer Cheryl Pawelski and engineer Michael Graves, who won a Grammy for “Best Historical Album” with an earlier Hank Williams set, The Garden Spot Programs — is behind this amazing 272-page hardcover book with six CD set.
Titled Hank Williams: Pictures From Life’s Other Side, it presents a fascinating sight and sound snapshot of the artists’ life at this time with complete-as-possible recordings made for his Mother’s Best Flour radio show. Yes, Hank Williams had his own show sponsored by a flour company! Actually, this is not as unusual as it may sound: for example, in the early days of country-swing there was a band called The Light Crust Doughboys which was sponsored by a biscuit dough company! That band gave the world one Bob Wills, the legendary fiddle player and band leader which swept the nation with hits like “New San Antonio Rose” and “Smoke On The Water” (a #1 hit in 1945).
But… I digress…
Each Mother’s Best Flour show was 15 minutes long, broadcast every weekday, allowing Williams to have a presence on radio separate from his commercial recordings even when he was busy on the road touring.
With 144 tracks spread across six compact discs on Hank Williams: Pictures From Life’s Other Side, all recorded in Nashville in 1951 at WSM Studios — and quite a fair amount of repetition in the music performed — there is no doubt a wealth of grand music here for the serious fan. You’ll hear many of his classics including “Move It On Over,” “Why Don’t You Love Me?” and “Hey Good Lookin’.” There are also quite a number of religious oriented songs which present an interesting contrast to the more honky tonk flavored songs, underscoring one of the core audiences he no doubt appealed to at the time.
For those us not quite as familiar with the behind-the-scenes of Mr. Williams’ life, Hank Williams: Pictures From Life’s Other Side provides a remarkable snapshot bringing this pioneering entertainer to life in pictures and words. And that is where this book really shines, at least for me. I’ve certainly seen scenes of Mr. Williams on concert stages and such, but never have I seen images of him performing before thousands of fans. There are some remarkably candid images here bringing to light just what a superstar he was at this time. You’ll even see shots of him playing an electric guitar wearing a jacket trimmed with sparkling rhinestones and fringe!
The sound quality on these recordings — which are taken from radio transcription discs — is generally very good for the period and age, with minimal surface noise and clear sounds. There is a lot of music here so I’m still working my way through it all but for the most part everything sounds remarkably good given the recordings are 69 years old!
If you are looking for a deep dive look into the life and times of this influential artists, Hank Williams: Pictures From Life’s Other Side is both a great study and a great listen.