If you died as long ago as HANK WILLIAMS did – and especially if people still care about the music you made – there’ll likely be a boatload of reissues in your wake. The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings is one such release, it being a repackage/ remastering of something that already came out at least once during the CD era (a two disc release from 1993). These were “live” shows recorded in 1949 for dispersal to various radio stations and sponsored by anybody willing to pony up the dough, arriving on big 16″ transcription discs that the stations would play on the air along with commercials for that sponsor’s products. (It’s a long story, recounted in this package’s booklet, but the only taker for Williams’ show was Hadacol, a patent medicine made with a liberal dose of alcohol that supposedly cured all kinds of ills; see “snake oil.”)
BMG’s new corralling of this material is said to be complete, and by that measurement there are eight fifteen-minute programs consisting of Hank Williams and his Drifting Cowboys running through many of his hits, one of them twice (“Lovesick Blues”), while also running through the show’s opening and closing themes eight different times (“Happy Rovin’ Cowboy” and “Sally Goodin”)! Emcee Grant Turner introduces each show with a peppy little speech, followed by Hank himself sounding humble and contrite as he says hello and launches into the group’s first song (“A Mansion on the Hill,” for instance, “Lost Highway” or “Wedding Bells”), and then into a fiddle instrumental spotlighting Drifting Cowboy Jerry Rivers, then a few more songs and the aforementioned closer. These versions of the songs don’t seem very different from Williams’s late ’40s master studio takes of them, and a number of his bigger songs are here, but pretty much every song on this set was also recorded by the man for MGM Records (his original label). The patter between Hank and Grant is very homey and corny, yet still kind of entertaining seventy years on.
And then there’s Hank’s wife, Audrey Williams. Well, what can you say about Audrey? You could say she was reasonably good lookin’, and you could say – if you know your Hank history – that she was also a right pain in the ass. After listening to the first half of The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings, you’ll also likely say the woman couldn’t have carried a tune if it had a handle on it. Miss Audrey appears on the first four shows (the quad that make up CD1), bringing her wavering, quavering vocals to four songs either with or without Hank. I can say this: at least on the ones she sings with her husband her voice is covered over enough to make it only a minor nuisance. On the others, well, friend, she’s on her own so you’re on yer own.
The good news, folks, is that the sound quality here is superb. Considering the songs on The Complete Health & Happiness Recordings were preserved (if you can call it that) on old transcription discs, the possibility of dicey-sounding audio was great, and so it’s a pleasure to report that the mastering here is excellent, with nary a pop or click in earshot and the entire mono spectrum clear and rich. The pure country music Hank and his Drifting Cowboys made comes through quite nicely, and that’s one of the reasons these recordings still matter after so many years. Thankfully, they sound good enough to listen to more than once – and that ought to add to, if not your health, then at least your happiness.
3/5 (BMG Rights Management 538470942, 2019)