Truth is, The Hank Williams Song Book slid into the CD player mostly because the spine was misread to suggest a Connie Smith treasure. Instead, we get the New York-bred starlet of early 1960s TV, former Elvis escort, helpful hardware gal, and beauty products entrepreneur.
And though Connie Stevens doesn’t even merit an entry in the MusicHound Lounge encyclopedia, she proves to have been a stylish lounge singer, belting out these sad songs in a pure, knowing, girlish voice. Apparently The Hank Williams Song Book was cut in Nashville, in 1962, and while there’s some twangy guitar added for flavor, the arrangements are serious, swingin’ lounge, crisply played. And don’t forget the backing boychoir.
Surely it was meant for a joke, but it came out rather more than that. There’s nothing like rooting these classic songs from their expected settings to be reminded what a gifted songwriter Hank Williams truly was. But mostly the uncredited players and arranger gave these sessions their full attention and did first-rate work.
So did Ms. Stevens. Yes, the horns opening “Hey, Good Lookin’” set a jarring tone, but her voice offsets the new tone with plenty of sass. The doo-wahs behind “Your Cheatin’ Heart” set a similarly unsettling mood, but she bites on the words with the venom of young experience. And “Nobody’s Lonesome For Me” becomes the ideal teenage lament, perfect for Lesley Gore, say.
It doesn’t all come off. Nothing in New York (or Los Angeles) prepared Stevens to sing “Jambalaya”, and it sounds as wooden as anybody singing phonetically in a language not their own. But balance that with the glorious lounge reinterpretation of “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”, and it’s a pretty smashing outing.