So what's to say about five CDs worth of unreleased Hank Snow material from 1950-1956, some of the artist's hottest years? Thesaurus was an RCA imprint that recorded nothing but radio transcriptions. Snow recorded 138 tracks, none of which were ever released to the public, all of which are included here, completely remastered from master tapes and acetates. Snow is accompanied on the vast majority of these tracks by his Rainbow Ranch Boys, and some heavy company such as Chet Atkins, steel player Joe Talbot, and fiddler Curly Wise. Problem is, these details had to be fleshed out by the researcher who wrote the liner notes, Charles Wolfe. Most of the sessions say "Hank Snow, voice and guitar, other details unknown." It doesn't matter, though, fans of Snow will be able to readily recognize when guests appear and when the band is popping off many his classics, as well as many more obscurities. The sound quality on this set is astonishingly good considering the original condition of much of the source material. While it's true that RCA treasured Snow almost from the beginning for his earning power and his prestige in the country market, archival standards were not what they are today, and deterioration was inevitable. But the folks in the Bear Family lab painstakingly remastered these tapes, getting rid of most of the hiss, but leaving enough to include all the music. The Thesaurus transcriptions are also not hindered in any way by the continuing practice of including intros and outros -- like the Jim Reeves and Friends set. The honky tonk music flows fast, free, and passionately from Snow's deep Canadian folk-rooted voice. In listening to "Weary Blues" on disc one or "Then I Turned and Walked Away" from disc four, or "Do Right Daddy Blues" from disc five -- and all of these are random examples, you could have chosen dozens of others -- one can hear, in the grain of Snow's voice, what made him connect with people in the same way they connected with Hank Williams: simplicity and directness. Snow took care never to hide his voice and words behind arrangements or instrumental flourishes -- even when a picking duel occurred in his songs -- he went straight for the heart of the vocal and dragged it up to the top of the mix and let the story fall in front of the listener, bringing them into the song, whether it was a gospel tune; a Western swing blues; a somber, lovelorn ballad; or a honky tonk good-time dance tune. Snow sang them all the same way: to the listener. He could move from his lovely baritone to a lilting tenor as a device for getting a lyric, not an arrangement, across. What makes these tracks even more special is that since Snow wasn't bound by having to make records for sale, for commercial gain, he and his band felt no pressure in performing them. There is a relaxed, easy, strolling atmosphere present in all of the Thesaurus sessions; toward the end of 1952 and on until 1956, the sessions became sort of a social gathering for Snow and his musicians, a workshop for songs such as "Fire on the Mountain," "The End of the World," "Pins and Needles," "The Streamline Cannonball," "Blue Dreams," "The Sun Has Gone Down on Our Love," "Whispering Hoper," and literally dozens of others. Often the Thesaurus versions are superior to the more familiar commercially recorded ones for this very reason. It's not so much that they're so raw, because Snow was a consummate professional, but they are fresher, more immediate, without the usual distance between a recording set in time and space and the listener at the other end of the speakers. This is a set that will be of supreme interest not only to Snow collectors, but to those who collect vintage country music as well. There is nothing here that should have been discarded -- except some of the corny photos in the booklet -- and none of it rings the least bit contrived or untrue. This is one of the most important box sets that Bear Family has ever done.
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