Now unearthed, some genius (not sarcasm) at Columbia thought itd be a great idea to recruit a handful of singers indebted to Williams for the purpose of recording an album that simultaneously acts as tribute and debut.
None of these songs were ever recorded, according to Columbia. Who finished writing them, we dont know, but this collection, "The Lost Notebooks," is really stellar. Youve got a good range of singers who regularly work in a bunch of traditional veins interesting material to work with, and a wild card with Jack Whites face on it. How can you go wrong?
Alan Jacksons register is most similar to Williams, so it makes sense that his entry, Youve Been Lonesome, Too, kicks The Lost Notebooks off, even if its a little bit vanilla (cmon guys, a fiddle and steel guitar?). Its also truest, lyrically, to Williams expertise as a bard of sorrow, and probably tells the best story here.
It sounds like Bob Dylan may have used the same backing band as Jackson, but thankfully, his vocal gurgling on The Love That Faded really loosens things up. Also, his son Jakobs contribution, Oh, Mama, Come Home, made me think two thoughts for the first time:
1. I really wish he would do more songs Jack Johnson-style.
2. This is way better than what his dad did.
Levon Helms entry goes down smooth and sorrowful, thanks to his signature register and a squad of female backup singers. And Merle Haggard gives his obligatory appearance as the hillbilly preacher man: He brought strength of Gaawwwwd and morals, to mortals who were weak.
Lucinda Williams take on Im So Happy I Found You is so very ironic to the title that you cant help but imagine Hanks smiling up in cowboy heaven. It also proves the universality of Williams songs, that they seem just as natural from the female perspective as the male. Also, I think Norah Jones dainty, twangy How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart? warrants a whole Norah Jones country album. Watch a live version below.
While Im very much biased toward the genius behind the White Stripes, I think Mr. Whites contribution is the best one here. For starters, hes working a lot harder to do old Hank proud than any of the male singers on the record. Just listen 20 seconds into You Know That I Know and you hear him drawing out those vowels like daggers, like hes swaying back and forth, about to tumble off the old wooden stool hes perched on. Also, that quavering honky-tonk guitar of his is just terrific. I wonder if White picked this song specifically for the line the last time I saw you, your pretty hair was red / But today, I see youve got black hair on your head. It so perfectly fits his art-rock color scheme construction. Shuffle it somewhere into Get Behind Me Satan, and most listeners wouldnt be the wiser.
One small complaint: Theres a bunch of time in between songs here. Throughout listening to this compilation, Id worried that the CD had unexpectedly stopped spinning.
Last thing: Our love was like a sacred scroll you neer did learn to read / I gave to you my heart and soul, and you left it there to bleed, is an absolutely fantastic simile (its on Vince Gill and Rodney Crowells terrific, depressing I Hope You Shed a Million Tears), one that ranks up at the top of Williams best writing, alongside then Jesus came like a stranger in the night / Praise the Lord, I saw the light. Its timeless poetry.
Thank that good Lord we got this previously unknown collection of Williams songs. They really do add a lot to his already impressive catalogue.