Sing a Song of Praise: Hank Done It Like This

A new archival collection brings together the legendary gospel recordings of Hank Williams

Hank Williams ❤’s Mother’s Best (Images: Google)

Hank Williams’ imprint in the evolution of modern country music is unmistakable.

Indeed, given such songs as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” his impact on modern music as a whole is all but undeniable.

Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Charley Pride, and literally hundreds of others artists have covered his songs and credited him as a prime influence.

Naturally then, there have been scores of compilations, reissues and radio sessions released in the nearly 70 years since he died at age 29 from a toxic combination of alcohol and drugs in the backseat of a Cadillac on his way to his next show. While many of these collections merely repeat his roll call of greatest hits, there are an occasional few that add something new and unheard. Of the latter, the two disc collection I’m Gonna Sing: The Mother’s Best Gospel Radio Recordings spotlights some 40 hymnals, both traditional tunes and original offerings Williams recorded live for the daily radio show sponsored by Mother’s Best Flour. While it wasn’t a gospel show per se, Williams typically closed each broadcast with a hymn, an indication of the love of church music he had revered since childhood.

Hank Williams I’m Gonna Sing: The Mother’s Best Gospel Radio Recordings, Omnivore Recordings 2022

Granted, in some regard, the material is specific in its style, given that it’s of a purely devotional nature. On the other hand, many of these songs remain part of a contemporary canon that allows the religious divide to often be overlooked “I Am Bound for the Promised Land,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Farther Along,” “Drifting Too Far From the Shore” and “Where the Soul Never Dies” ought to be familiar to anyone with an appreciation for inherent Americana, and Williams’ interpretations emphasize the fact that these offerings have generally passed for secular standards as well. Add to that Williams’ own “I Saw the Light,” a song that remains as popular today as it was when it was originally written in 1947.

That said, I’m Gonna Sing is also an offering of a decidedly archival nature, but hearing Williams sharing his comments after each performance and passing his complements on to his backing band offers insight into his otherwise humble demeanor. “Thank you boys. You got better as the song went on,” he says at one point, adding a hint of down-home humor to the proceedings.

So too, Colin Escott’s thorough liner notes offer both content and context, ensuring the fact that though this music is of a vintage variety, it makes an interesting addendum for anyone with deep appreciation for William’s lingering legacy. Granted, it may not be the first album one turns to when delving deep into Williams’ remarkable catalog, but it does reveal the roots from which his contributions to country music were first sewn.

Considering all he accomplished in his abbreviated career, that fact alone ought to make this collection a compelling acquisition for any completist. 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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