Live At The Grand Ole Opry

A hopeless alcoholic by the time of his death in the early hours of New Year's Day, 1953, there has been a temptation to label [B]Hank Williams[/B]' grubby demise as the earliest example of rock'n'rol

He lived fast, died young and left behind a legacy which, to historians of country music, remains unparalleled. A hopeless alcoholic by the time of his death in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 1953, there has been a temptation to label Hank Williams‘ grubby demise as the earliest example of rock’n’roll martyrdom; the first link in a causal chain which winds its way through the passing decades to [a]Kurt Cobain[/a] and Richey Edwards.

Maybe there’s some truth in it. The voice that crackles through this collection of early radio performances, however, has little to do with the musical revolution that would follow in the years after his death. A keening Alabama whine, occasionally breaking into an eerie Appalachian yodel, Williams‘ voice is remorselessly cheerful despite the gravity of his subject matter; loneliness, despair and doomed romance. Moreover, as he takes his place among the Hicksville comics and Nashville conservatives on the thoroughly establishment Grand Ole Opry, it’s difficult to see any forward lineage to the sheer snottiness of early rock’n’roll.

Amid the cabaret turns there are plenty of interesting rereadings of his most famous songs, ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’, ‘Hey Good Lookin’‘ and ‘Jambalaya’, along with the odd glimpse of his God-fearing gospel persona. What rarely surfaces, however, is any sense of the man behind the songs. ‘Live At The Grand Ole Opry’ is composed of resolutely professional performances from a man struggling to become an all-round entertainer.

Plenty of greatest hits compilations provide a clearer picture of Hank Williams but the man that glows dimly through the radio valves here remains resolutely enigmatic. An intriguing document, but one that refuses to live up to Williams‘ rock’n’roll reputation.