This is the third collection of Hank Snow's recordings issued by Bear Family, and covers a period not generally considered to encompass his biggest hit-making years (1958-1969, with some tracks from 1974 added for perverse measure). Yet he still managed to record some 320 songs, own two radio stations and two publishing companies, and open a music store and a music school! This third box set in the Snow legacy is staggering in scope. It contains 12 CDs, packed full, a book of rare interview dialogue with Snow, complete session works, and so many rare photographs they will leave the prospective buyer agape. The sound is pristine and painstakingly mastered, and the presentation is sublime. This is one of those sets that Bear Family does -- like the other two -- that makes a music fan wonder why other companies even bother to reissue archival material at all. As for the music itself, along with some of the most adventurous material Snow ever recorded, there are 14 completely unissued tracks --12 from the years that span the time frame of the box and two from a 1974 session added as a bonus. These were the years that Snow felt perhaps the most conflicted about the changes in Nashville, but nonetheless tried to ride the countrypolitan wave without selling his soul. By the sound of these masters, he was very successful. Along with his entire second tribute to Jimmie Rodgers called Hank Snow Sings Jimmie Rodgers Songs (with clarinet and trumpet to add to the author's jazz arrangements, from which, fantastically, no singles were ever issued), there are also two year's worth of material, from both 1959 and 1960, where Snow never recorded anything but singles! These tracks include Leon Payne's "I Heard My Heart Break Last Night," J.D. Loudermilk's "Father Time and Mother Love," Ted Harris' "Chasin' a Rainbow," "The Last Ride," "The Tramp's Story," and Cowboy Jack Clement's "The Man Behind the Gun," as well as some stunning instrumentals for B-sides, like "Hawaiian Sunset" and "Casey's Washerwoman Boogie" (with the Rainbow Ranch Boys). Also included is one of the most moving of Snow's originals, co-written with M.I. MacIntyre, called "My Nova Scotia Home."
But it was in the year that Snow began recording albums again that things really got interesting for a number of reasons: first, his -- and Chet Atkins' -- choice in material for the period, and second, the variety of settings Snow found himself working in. Among the most satisfying and revelatory examples of his ability to put country-styled R&B across with a stripped-down band of just himself and Sleepy McDaniels on bass are "Life Time Blues" and "Sleepy Maple Leaves." The bigger-band material is also phenomenal, when one considers that Atkins was hiring people like Tompall Glaser, Velma Smith, Howard White, and Roy Huskey to play on Snow's sessions that early on. There are the usual barflies as well, among them Floyd Cramer, Chubby Wise, Gene Martin, and Doug Kirkham, too. Materially, from Payne's "I Love You Because" and Don Gibson's "A Legend in My Time" to "Fraulein," Marty Robbins' "I'll Go on Alone," and Webb Pierce's "That Heart Belongs to Me," Snow was deepening the grain of his country music background with slicker players. And it makes for an interesting dichotomy. But Snow was not immune to the 1960s. As the years roll on, listeners hear the sessions becoming more and more complex and the material expanding to include borderline pop songs. The rub is that Snow's voice was so fine in interpreting them, and in capturing their grain inside his own. There is Lieber & Stoller material here in "The Man Who Robbed the Bank at Santa Fe," as well as Billy and Bud Mize's "Call of the Wild," Marvin Rainwater's "Gonna Find Me a Bluebird," Buddy Knox's "Hula Love," Loudermilk's darkness-drenched "Break My Mind," John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind" (a great version, too), an album of material by the poet Robert Service (!), a choogling little Christmas album, and the best train song album ever made. Along with these aberrations are the classic cowboy songs, train songs, love songs, geographical ballads and anthems, and historically sound country tunes that built the stature of the music. Snow was entrenched but had an open mind -- more open than most, anyway. Ultimately, the '60s proved to be fertile for Snow, more fertile than he could have imagined at the time, partially because he was frighteningly engaged in living it, and partially because he didn't experience the same chart success he had in the '50s, though it was by no means a failed run commercially. These recordings help to fill out the portrait of one of the most vital artists to ever make it out of Nashville, and who remained true to his country roots to the end, no matter how adventurous and experimental his muse got. This is essential Snow, anyway you cut it.