In 1995, Matt Johnson made, what I still consider, to be an ill-advised move with the release of Hanky Panky, an 11-track CD in which he covered songs originally recorded back in the day by Hank Williams.
It was an audacious project, with Matt choosing to shy away from many of the best-known Hank songs in favour of those he felt ‘moved him most on a raw emotional level’ (as per the sleeve notes).
He later added, again in the sleeve notes, that what he and the band had looked to achieve was to The The-ize the music by stretching and twisting it around a bit, while trying to stay true to the emotional essence at the core of Hank Williams’ work.
The end result fell awkwardly between two stools. Some songs did sound very much like The The, such as the only single taken from the album:-
The problem is that while the music is familiar enough to fans of The The, it seemed forced in respect of the lyrical content, given it was written and recorded originally by Williams as a gospel number. It just jarred too much to be truly enjoyable.
Other song interpretations were more in keeping with a C&W vibe, but I just don’t feel Matt’s voice can really do the genre justice.
As it turned out, as I learned a few weeks ago when I picked up a copy of the 10″ single, the really stripped back stuff was kept off the album and released instead as the b-sides. On these, Matt provides only the vocal, with the only other playing being the guitar work of Eric Shermerhorn.
I wasn’t expecting all that much from the EP, and so I’m not all that bothered that it’s one of those pieces of vinyl that I’ve played once and will unlikely do so again…and it wasn’t an expensive purchase, with copies readily available on Discogs for a couple of pounds.
Some of you out there might like it, which is why I’ve offered it up today.
It’s worth mentioning that the sleeve notes for the album stated that Hanky Panky would be the first of an occasional series of albums celebrating the great singer/songwriters. The fact that no other albums were released in a similar vein perhaps indicates that Matt learned a lesson from the way the Hank Williams tribute was responded to by fans and critics alike.