My name is Paul and I usually blog over at Setting The Woods On Fire. Boyhowdy has been kind enough to let me say a few words here while he enjoys a vacation. As you might have guessed from the title of my blog, I’m a big fan of Hank Williams. I also love cover songs.
Cover songs are fun because they help you separate the song from the performance. Do I love Hank because of the songs he wrote and poularized? Or do I love Hank because of the way he performed them? I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but listening to covers of Hank is a good way to understand what makes Hank's records so special.
Except for the Dylan tune, the tracks featured here are new to me. Boyhowdy thought it might be interesting to see how a Hank fan would respond to folky covers of Hank’s work. Some I liked a lot. Some not so much.
I’ll start with Cold Cold Heart by Norah Jones. This one should generate lots of interest, as it’s one of Hank’s best compositions performed by popular singer. While Norah undoubtedly has a great voice, I’m not sold. I hear it more as a musical exercise than as an emotional plea from a frustrated lover. Lesson: I love Hank because he really sells a song.
Norah Jones, Cold Cold Heart (H. Williams)
(from Come Away With Me)
Since I wasn’t so nice with the first one, let’s move on to my favorite song in this batch of Hank covers, a brilliant medley of Wedding Bells and Let’s Turn Back The Years performed by John Prine and Lucinda Williams. I love everything about this recording. Hank did not write Wedding Bells but it sounds just like something he could have written, which is shown by how seemlessly this “medley” fits together. John and Lucinda do a nice job selling the song without over-singing. Not surprising, considering their talents. (Of course, it might just be the peddle steel guitar that so warms my country-loving heart on this piece.)
John Prine & Lucinda Williams, Wedding Bells/Let’s Turn Back The Years (C. Boone/H. Williams)
(from In Spite of Ourselves)
Speaking of over-singing, here’s a rendition of Long Gone Lonesome Blues that’s just a bit too overdone for my taste. Yodeling is OK (in small doses). Quavery yodeling is pushing it.
Red Molly, Long Gone Lonesome Blues (H. Williams)
(from Never Been To Vegas)
Over-singing isn’t always bad, though. I'm not exactly sure why, but Mark Erelli’s spirited version of The Devil’s Train works well despite the singer's affected “twang”:
Mark Erelli, The Devil’s Train (H. Williams)
(from The Memorial Hall Recordings)
Another one from Boyhowdy’s batch that I really liked was I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive by Greg Brown. It’s kind of a goofy song (“I was living high until the fatal day a lawyer proved I wasn’t born, I was only hatched”), and it’s a Hank Williams' signature tune, so it's not an easy assignment for a cover artist. But Brown pulls it off with aplomb by playing it straight. Just like Hank, I believe Brown’s exaggerated tale of woe.
Greg Brown, I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (F. Rose/H. Williams)
(from Friend of Mine)
Only one of Boyhowdy's batch of folky Hank covers really bothered me, and this is it. The descending harmony party is cloying. And the re-written lyric about the “gay” dog just does not belong in a Hank Williams song (not that there’s anything wrong with gay dogs). Score one point for Hank's performance trumping his songs.
Devon Sproule & Paul Curreri, Why Don’t You Love Me? (H. Williams)
(from Valentines Day Duets #3, 2006)
Let’s close this post with a Hank song performed by one of the few artists that I would place on an equally high pedestal, Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan, (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle (H. Williams/J. Davis)
(outtake from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan)
I hope you enjoy these tunes. If I’m wrong about my criticism of any of the few I didn’t like, please let me know. It’s just one Hank fan’s opinion.
Oh yeah, my conclusion from listening to these covers is that I like Hank's songs, but I love the way he sings them.
Prolific blogger and tastemaster Paul pays regular tribute to country, rock, bluegrass, and jazz over at Setting The Woods On Fire. He is also a founding member of collaborative music blog Star Maker Machine.