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'Timeless':  A Tribute To The Songs of Hank Williams - 2002-02-22

Hank Williams was the first country music superstar; the innovator who helped "hillbilly" music find a mainstream audience.

Hank Williams short career began with his first publishing contract in 1946. Just less than seven years and 11 hit songs later, it ended when the 29-year-old was found dead on the back seat of his Cadillac on New Years Day 1953. Hank Williams' legacy has continued to grow in the years since then, making "Timeless" an apt title for a Grammy-nominated CD honoring the legendary singer and songwriter.

Bob Dylan rarely lends his services to tribute recordings, but on Timeless, he leads his touring band through a bluesy shuffle version of I Can't Get You Off of My Mind, a relatively obscure song from 1947. Dylan has often mentioned Hank Williams as a songwriting influence. It's almost impossible to over-estimate the impact of Hank Williams' music on American music as a whole.

He was the first to write about the dark side of his own life, developing the modern songwriting model that is still followed today. These songs, outlining in simple, stark details the troubles of his soul and his relationship with his wife, spoke directly to the hearts of people who saw him in concert or listened to him perform on the Grand Ole Opry.

Country music fans might be surprised to find that Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones is another songwriter who has long claimed Hank Williams as a major influence. Keith's contribution to Timeless is a raw and ragged yet charming version of You Win Again.

For many years, Hank Williams' songs were re-released with added orchestras and choirs of background vocalists. It was a misguided effort to make Williams, who died on January 1, 1953, more relevant to today's audiences. The music industry should have realized that songs like Your Cheatin' Heart and I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry will never be outdated, as long as lovers betray each other, and people wallow in depression.

The artists on this tribute understand that fact. In some cases, such as Lucinda Williams' Cold Cold Heart, these new versions on Timeless are more rustic than the originals Williams recorded between 1947 and 1952.

The dozen rock, pop, blues, folk and country luminaries who pack this tribute to Hank Williams show just how far the influence of the man dubbed "the hillbilly Shakespeare" extends beyond the borders of country music.

This album will also serve as a great introduction for those who want to learn more about this great songwriter, whose songs proved to be sturdier than the man.

While dominated by veterans, Timeless also features a few relative newcomers in Beck, Ryan Adams and Keb' Mo' who adds an appropriately bluesy flavor to I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.