HANK WILLIAMS: THE UNRELEASED RECORDINGS
by Billy Altman
The 54 tracks presented here provide a vivid cross-sectional view not only of Hank Williams' music at a very specific time in his life, but also a window into that of country music as a whole in 1951. The range of material is strikingly eclectic, as Williams and his exceptional band the Drifting Cowboys (Don Helms, steel guitar; Jerry Rivers, fiddle; Sammy Pruett, electric guitar; and Cedric Rainwater, bass) ramble through everything from huge original hits ("Hey Good Lookin'," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Cold Cold Heart") and other popular fare (Moon Mullican's "Cherokee Boogie," Roy Acuff's "The Prodigal Son," Lulu Belle and Scotty's "Have I Told you Lately That I Love You") to well-worn Appalachian ballads ("On Top of Old Smoky"), Western classics ("Cool Water"), and, perhaps most significantly, a host of sacred tunes, some of which, like "the Blind Child's Prayer," "Where He Leads Me," and "I Dreamed that the Great Judgment Morning," date back to the 19th century. Many of the religious songs feature vocal trios and quartets with Williams surrounded by the harmonies of his band members, and the deep feeling of intimacy—reminiscent in its own way of Bob Dylan singing with the Band on the Basement Tapes—is unlike anything heard on Williams' MGM recordings.
Joey + Rory, THE LIFE OF A SONG
Even those fervent fans that were suitably impressed by the husband-wife duo of Joey Martin and Rory Feel on the CMT series Can You Duet could not have anticipated a debut album so completely compelling as The Life of a Song.
Earl Scruggs with Family & Friends, THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION: LIVE AT THE RYMAN
Earl Scruggs has had nothing to prove for a long, long time, but every time he's entered a studio or strolled onstage, he strikes his classic quiet pose and astounds every one in sight with the fluidity, the technical mastery and the soulfulness of his playing. He did so again on the night documented on this fine CD, when any questions as to whether age might have tempered his attack were laid to rest for good on the third song, when he tore into the rolling, bending opening bars of his self-penned "Earl's Breakdown," a number that goes lickety-split for three-minutes-plus of breathtaking and breathless soloing.
Donna Ulisse, WALK THIS MOUNTAIN DOWN
If anyone is poised for a breakout year in bluegrass in '09 it's Donna Ulisse, who could hardly have helped herself more than she does on the Keith Sewell-produced Walk This Mountain Down. For starters she's got a baker's dozen of finely crafted songs to present her, all of which she either wrote or co-wrote, her main collaborators on the co-writes being Marti Rossi and Rick Stanley. Next, take a look at her backing band: Sewell himself is handling acoustic guitar chores; Andy Leftwich is on fiddle and mandolin; Scott Vestal is on banjo; Byron House on upright bass; and for God's sake, Rob Ickes on dobro. The New York Yankees should be so lucky as to afford a team like this, equivalent as it is of the famed Murderer's Row lineup of pinstripe lore.
ALISON KRAUSS: A HUNDRED MILES OR MORE
LIVE FROM THE TRACKING ROOM
This may seem a slight package at only nine performances, but the enriching quality of this music more than makes up for the parsimonious quantity herein. A little really does go a long way, even if it leaves you hungering for more. And it always does when it's Alison Krauss's music.
PREACHIN', PRAYIN' SINGIN': CHARLIE DANIELS & FRIENDS
LIVE FROM NASHVILLE
Filmed on April 25, 2005, at the Ford Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Charlie Daniels' gospel celebration found a whole bunch of outstanding musicians offering moving testimonies of faith in song. The gathering, masterfully steered by Charlie, whose singing is strong and authoritative throughout, is a family affair featuring the Scruggses (Earl, Gary and Randy); the Whites (Sheryl, Cheryl and Buck); and the McCourys (Del, Ronnie and Rob, as well as McCoury band members Jason Carter on fiddle and Mike Bub on bass), and Mac Wiseman, who in addition to his famous tenure with the Earl Scruggs Review (also an early home for Charlie), also held forth in an early iteration of the Charlie Daniels Band—so he's family too.