Roy Orbison

Hank Williams: The Roy Orbison Way

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Roy Orbison was wise to title his album of Hank Williams songs Hank Williams the Roy Orbison Way because that gives a good indication of the sound of the LP. Indeed, Orbison takes ten Williams songs and applies to them musical arrangements by Jim Hall that are typical of the singer, not the songwriter. Track after track employs a rock & roll rhythm section, a string chart, and a backup chorus to support Orbison's soaring tenor, much in the manner of his hitmaking period in the early '60s. These country-inflected pop/rock settings often seem foreign to the Williams songs, so much so that listeners won't recognize the actual compositions unless Orbison is singing the familiar words. And when they do recognize the songs, the effect may not be pleasing. The approach actually works best when Orbison is addressing a lesser-known Williams song like "(Last Night) I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep" or "A Mansion on the Hill," so that the tune seems more his own. Leaving aside the question of fidelity to Williams, another question must be, what does this music have to do with popular trends in the early '70s? It's hard to say for whom this album is intended, and therefore it doesn't seem likely to lead to a career resurgence for Orbison.

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