Various Artists: Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins

An up-and-down consistency only slightly mars this collection of lovingly rendered Ted Hawkins covers
Various Artists
Cold and Bitter Tears: The Songs of Ted Hawkins
Eight 30

If you’ve never heard of Ted Hawkins you’re not alone. One of the all-time “coulda beens”, Hawkins paid way more than his dues busking along the streets and piers of Venice Beach, the sea spray and constantly airborne sand eroding his voice into a plaintive rasp. At the turn of the 1970s, he recorded his first album for producer Bruce Bromberg, but that potential break was derailed by a stint in prison. The sessions wouldn’t see release until 1982; not the best era for an aging Sam Cooke acolyte to be cutting his teeth with a new wave-obsessed public.

2015 marks the 20th anniversary of Hawkins’ death, and in memoriam Austin-based record label Eight 30 has put together a lineup of (largely Southern) artists loosely operating out of the blues and Americana genres to pay tribute to the unsung legend. Rather than going after the hottest emerging talent in the biz, Eight 30 has hewed toward the elder statesman crowd: singer-songwriters with a lived-in identity of their own, the better to give fresh readings to the best of Hawkins’ limited output.

The best of these, such as James McMurtry’s take on “Big Things” and a rendition of “Happy Hour by Sunny Sweeney that could be a major hit in the hands of Miranda Lambert, emphasize the broad appeal of Hawkins’ songwriting by recasting it in different molds. Hit-or-miss is the name of the game for projects such as this, though, and one wonders whether the usually venerable Mary Gauthier has any real affinity for “Sorry You’re Sick” at all. Still a worthwhile set for fans of both Ted Hawkins as well as the artists involved.

RATING 6 / 10