This collection, featuring 63 songs, isn't a cross-section of Hawkins'
history, because it's limited to his RCA and Columbia recordings, thus leaving out his pre-1953 and post-1961 hits for King Records. It is, however, a dazzling array of some of the best honky tonk-based country music this side of Hank Williams
. The first thing one notices is what a stunning voice Hawkins
had, and also his range as a performer -- he could do a lovesick ballad and make it seem like the words came right from his heart, but was equally engaging doing playful novelty numbers. Disc One covers his first two years at RCA, one perfect track after another, great singing backed by crisp, tight playing and note-perfect arrangements across a dazzling range of material. It runs the gamut from the sentimental to some of the brightest dance-type tunes and novelty numbers of their period, and even some not-half-bad efforts at hooking into the new rock craze. Disc Two opens with maybe the prettiest, most haunting song that Hawkins
ever recorded, the previously unissued "I've Had It Before," a moody country-blues driven by Hawkins'
own acoustic guitar. His re-recording of "Sunny Side of the Mountain," Hawkins
' signature tune beginning in the late '40s, is also here. Disc Three is given over to Hawkins'
stay at Columbia Records, which marked a major change in his repertory. The sound isn't as crisp, but the material is the real curiosity; Hawkins'
arrival coincided with Marty Robbins'
huge success with Western songs, and Johnny Horton's
mega-hit "The Battle of New Orleans," so Columbia had him do half a dozen folk-based and historical songs and Western numbers. It took a year for Hawkins
to return to his old sound, which closes out this set.