Friday, May 30, 2014

REVIEW: Hank Williams - The Garden Spot Programs, 1950

Omnivore Recordings has hit another home run with its release of The Garden Spot Programs, 1950, featuring 24 performances, unheard for 64 years, from the great Hank Williams. It's amazing to think that in 2014 we are getting new material from Hank Williams - but even more amazing, the sound quality is very clear. These aren't moldy discs unearthed in a barn somewhere - they are mastered from tapes shipped from a studio in Nashville to a radio station in Texas, that allowed Williams to appear on "local" radio programs from his home studio in Nashville. The music was restored and mastered from original transcription discs by Grammy Award winning engineer Michael Graves. Here's a short trailer with a bit of background on the project:

And as an example of the quality, here's "Mind Your Own Business". I recall listening to versions of this song vastly inferior to this - for years, and thinking that was as good as we were going to get on material from the 40's and 50's. This sounds great:

The CD packaging contains rare photos and liner notes from the collection of set co-producer and Williams biographer Colin Escott. Escott writes in his notes: “Set the time machine for early morning on KSIB-AM, Creston, Iowa. February 1950. Country radio was beginning its slow transition from live music to DJ shows. Live music and DJ shows were augmented by transcribed shows. After buying 15 minutes of airtime on small-market stations, sponsors would prerecord shows with well known artists, duplicate them, and ship them out on 12 or 16-inch transcribed discs.”

“That’s how Hank Williams came to be on KSIB in February 1950. Sandwiched between the local ‘live’ acts, it was almost as if he were visiting with Skeets and those Radio Rascals. His sponsor was one of the nation’s largest plant nurseries, Naughton Farms, seven hundred miles south in Waxahachie, Texas. Given that Naughton was a big player in the nursery business, Hank’s shows were almost certainly shipped to many small stations, but only KSIB’s copies survived. Those of us who have studied Hank’s life and career had no idea that these recordings existed.”

Here's the track listing:
1. The Garden Spot Jingle
2. Lovesick Blues
3. A Mansion On The Hill
4. Fiddle Tune
5. I’ve Just Told Mama Goodbye
6. Closing/Oh! Susanna
7. The Garden Spot Jingle
8. Mind Your Own Business
9. Lovesick Blues
10. Fiddle Tune
11. At The First Fall Of Snow
12. Closing/Oh! Susanna
13. The Garden Spot Jingle
14. I Can’t Get You Off Of My Mind
15. I Don’t Care (If Tomorrow Never Comes)
16. Fiddle Tune
17. Farther Along
18. Closing/Oh! Susanna
19. The Garden Spot Jingle
20. I’ll Be A Bachelor ’Til I Die
21. Wedding Bells
22. Fiddle Tune
23. Jesus Remembered Me
24. Closing/Oh! Susanna

As part of the show, you hear the host imploring Hank to play "Lovesick Blues", citing the carload of mail they've received from listeners asking him to play it, as well as Williams' folksy between-song patter. His prowess as a performer is shown not only on his musical performances, but also his humor and exposition. However, as Escott also points out, "the patter was often jarringly at odds with the sepulchral songs that preceded and followed it." I'd also make the observation that the irony of placing "I'll Be a Bachelor 'Til I Die" back to back with the bathos of "Wedding Bells" is probably unintended, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Omnivore Recordings

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