Various artists, "I Saw the Light (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)" (Sony Legacy)
Because Hank Williams' mark on country music is as indelible as a two-stepper in a honky tonk, it's shocking to be reminded that he lived just 29 years — and died more than half a century ago. British actor Tom Hiddleston resurrects the legend 63 years later in the new biopic "I Saw the Light" and everything about the accompanying soundtrack sounds straight out of Williams' heyday. Except Hiddleston's voice, but that doesn't matter because the actor can sing.
Hiddleston wisely avoids trying to mimic Williams' unmistakable nasal twang. With an upbeat tenor that bears no trace of his roots, Hiddleston creates a sanitized but pleasant Hank, lacking the rough edges that make Williams sound right at home on a dive bar jukebox. It's a version that might go better with a couple of craft beers.
He gets a top-shelf assist from the Saddle Spring Boys, a crack backup band that includes alt-Nashville veteran Rodney Crowell, guitarist Richard Bennett, bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan, Mickey Raphael on harmonica and Chris Scruggs — Earl's grandson — on steel guitar and vocals. The sweet moan of that guitar lends a trademark sound to "Move It On Over," ''Hey Good Lookin'" and other featured Williams' classics.
The 13-track album is sprinkled with other hits from the era — The Delmore Brothers' "Field Hand Man," Eddy Arnold on "Anytime" and Jo Stafford's silky version of "The Tennessee Waltz" — that make this an atmospheric visit to another time.