25 tracks unearthed from four live studio performances recorded in Nashville in 1950 come together to constitute a new edition to the complete work of the Drifting Cowboy, Hank Williams. The performances, released by Omnivore Records and originally sponsored by Naughton Farms, a mail-order plant nursery in Waxahachie, TX, capture Hank Williams in his purest form with his Drifting Cowboy Band, and similar to previous releases of Mother’s Best Flour-sponsored programming, also include banter in between the songs that is preserved for the listener’s enjoyment, and for further insight into Hank Williams beyond the music.
The Garden Spot Programs, 1950 is a quality release with recordings that come across with sharpness and surprising clarity for sessions that were just recently unearthed and went unheard and undiscovered for nearly 64 years. Since they were recorded in the same studio as many of Hank’s other iconic recordings, there’s no appreciable drop in quality from his more formal studio releases, despite the live aspects of the recordings. Once the recordings were made, they were transferred to 16-inch transcription disks and sent to radio stations across the country for broadcast. Many of the disks were misplaced or discarded, but a set discovered at KSIB in Creston, Iowa led to this Garden Spot Programs release.
Williams offers new renditions of some of his most iconic tunes, including “Lovesick Blues” (twice), “Mansion On The Hill”, and “I Don’t Care (If Tomorrow Never Comes)” along with some other songs that Hank introduces as “novelty” like “Mind Your Own Business” and “I’ll Be A Bachelor ‘Till I Die”. As Hank Williams biographer and co-producer of this project Colin Escott points out, on many of the recordings, Hank’s regular steel player Don Helms isn’t present, and Cousin Jody is playing steel instead, adding a unique wrinkle to these recordings from the originals.
Though there are 25 tracks here, there may not be as many full songs here, and this album may not last as long as some listeners would like. The four shows the recordings are taken from transpire in ordered segments that start with an opening Garden Spot jingle, are bisected by a 30 to 60-second fiddle tune, and end with a Garden Spot closing spoken by Hank that leads into a “Oh! Susanna” minute-long instrumental. When these recurring segments are taken out, this leaves only twelve complete songs as part of this recording, but these twelves songs are as strong as any Hank Williams ever released, and the jingles and fiddle tunes hold their own appeal in helping to take you back in time and envision the studio scene that these recordings capture.
The album ends with the 3-minute Naughton Farms ad—the whole reason for these performances—that pitches to listeners the mail-order offer of “15 thrilling rose bushes mountain collected in assorted colors of reds, pinks, whites, along with two hydrangeas, one tulip tree, and two lovely gardenia plants, for the amazingly low price of $1.98.” Now that’s a good deal. The by-gone innocence in all the extra material on this album gives it the warmth of setting, really putting you back in that 1950’s frame of mind.
Though nothing in this new collection feels like an essential piece of the Hank Williams puzzle, it is a welcome new offering that will be well-received by Hank Williams fans and once again helps us remember and continue the legacy of arguably the most important man in country music.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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