The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams was a flashpoint of controversy for some country music fans, but I honestly don’t see what all the fuss was about. The late, great Hank Williams had notebooks full of lyrics that he never set to music. The idea for this album was to solicit the services of a dozen artists to create melodies to accompany those words. Sure, this project can be viewed as exploitative grave-robbing. Or it can be viewed as a tribute to a great artist. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that Williams’ unfinished songs continue to exist in written form. It’s not as if history has been irreparably trampled upon. Anyone who finds the concept distasteful need not listen.
Even those who approve of this posthumous collaboration will quite likely be lulled into boredom by the results. The album isn’t without pleasant moments. In fact, nothing on the album is offensively bad. Most of the 12 contributing artists fall into a rather predictable approach, shuffling along lazily at a fairly relaxed tempo. Alan Jackson kicks off the set with one of the best tunes, “You’ve Been Lonesome, Too,” which just about does sound like a long-lost Williams classic. Norah Jones brings her melodic strengths to “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart?” while Levon Helm imbues “You’ll Never Again Be Mine” with a sense of mournful gravitas. Merle Haggard closes out the collection authoritatively with the warm “The Sermon on the Mount.”
Not all of the contributions are exactly bulls-eyes, however. Contributions by Bob Dylan and Jack White are all right, but lack any real spark of invention. Patty Loveless’ “You’re Through Fooling Me” is a bit sprightlier than the average track found here, but ultimately isn’t all that memorable either. Hank Williams’ own granddaughter, Holly Williams, shows off a too-thin and too-bland voice on “Blue is My Heart.” And Sheryl Crow just sounds uncomfortable on her track. Ultimately, perhaps, Williams’ writings should have remained in their unfinished state, leaving fans to imagine what the artist might have done with them. The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams contains a dozen artists trying hard to make something out of these words. The results are decidedly mixed, but not completely without merit.