Bear Family Records in Germany really like Hank Snow. They have done no less than six box sets totaling 39 CDs. And now number 40. These are the earliest of Snow's recordings, cowboy done in his native Montreal, Canada; they commence in a 1936 church recording session, and the last are from Victor's Montreal studios in 1947. Of the 25 tracks included here, Snow wrote all but six. The others are by legends like Bob Nolan and Roy Rogers. The most interesting aspect of these recordings -- most of them feature Snow and his guitar only -- is how much they push the envelope of the cowboy genre. There are many yodeling songs here, and songs of the range, but there are also some hard-rambling blues tunes in the tradition of Jimmie Rodgers, such as "San Antonio Mama," with killer slide work, and "Hobo's Last Ride," which is almost a Hank Williams ballad (as are "The Blue Velvet Band" and its sequel, "Answer to the Blue Velvet Band"). As for some of the earlier honky tonk material coming right out of the cowboy tradition, there is "We'll Never Say Goodbye, Just Say So Long" and Snow's amazing cover of the Walker/Sullivan classic "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again." "Blue Ranger," with its lap steel, is a lonely cowboy lament that rings as true as anything that Gene Autry ever sang. And then there are the folk songs, like "The Night I Stole Old Sammy Morgan's Gin," with a 12-string. One can almost hear Phil Ochs singing this one at Gertie's Folk City. What this set proves is nothing less than that Snow was indeed every bit the innovator that Williams was, as both a songwriter and as a communicator. He may not have had Williams' voice, but Williams couldn't play guitar the way Snow could, either. This set is no less than amazing in that it reveals Snow arriving on the scene in full possession of his singular talent. You may not want six box sets of the man, but this is an album that historical country music fans should own.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek