Currently, George Jones is on another rather large and extensive swing of Canadian cities which he seemed to just visit. Now 74 years young, Jones has recently been praised just for the simple fact he’s still out on the road. But also for the fact that the voice, while not in its heyday (unless he lives to be 130), is stronger than it should be for someone his age. No booze, no smokes is what he attributes it to. For the last few years, Jones has made some albums that really don’t do him justice, but this little collection of covers from his early and later contemporaries is a very fine exclamation point on a career that only Garth or Chris Gaines could ever dream of. Oh, and he also includes that little hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today” that he recorded in 1980, about 25 years into his career. And each of these songs suits his style to a tee, leading off with the standard “Funny How Time Slips Away”. While the arrangement is quite deliberate and harks back to the early slick but solid production values of the ‘70s, Jones nails the song simply by doing what he does best, never pushing himself but rather relying on that classic timbre to get the point across. “How am I doing? Oh I guess that I’m doing fine”, he utters in a style that is singing while speaking the lyrics.
Throughout the album, you get the impression that Jones could have started reading the Oxford English Dictionary as lyrics or tried his hand at country-fying Sean Paul and come off with similarly strong results. The timeless opener gives way to “Detroit City”, which was originally done by a next door neighbor of Jones’ at one time: Bobby Bare. The song, written by Mel Tillis and Danny Dill, starts off with the refrain “I wanna go home” that will make you recognize the tune even if the title doesn’t ring a bell with you initially. Again a slow, ambling kind of country tune with some nice harmonies and pedal steel accents. He speaks his way through one of the verses but it does nothing to diminish the overall tune, ending rather abruptly but adhering to the once Biblical commandment “Thou shalt not be over three minutes in length.” The first real highlight comes during “The Blues Man”, a Hank Jr. cover featuring Dolly Parton. This song is stripped down and is almost dirge-like in nature. Parton brings a brightness to the song despite its rather bleak nature. It’s as if Jones is singing his own autobiography as the lyrics speak about drugs and then a certain person changing his life.
While Jones champions several artists that he grew up with in his early career, he is also keen on celebrating those few musicians who have still managed to make credible country in an ever-increasing glut of sonic gunk. His rendition of “Here in the Real World”, originally done by Alan Jackson, is just such an example. While not packing the power of Jackson’s voice, Jones manages to make it his own a mere 20 to 30 seconds in. Perhaps the album’s nadir, though, comes in “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong”, previously done by Vern Gosdin. While Jones is very good, the song just doesn’t seem to suit him. Faring far better is “Today I Started Loving You Today”, a Merle Haggard gem that Jones dusts off and gives his own little quality-riddled whirl. Ditto for the Randy Travis signature “On the Other Hand” that seems to be one of the finest songs here, especially since Jones’ voice is a tad better here than on other offerings.
There is one rather odd selection but it’s worth it. Henson Cargill’s “Skip a Rope” is one of those quirky country songs that made its way to radio which talks about mommy and daddy fighting and stabbing people in the back, among other things. And while he closes with his signature song, Jones does a great job on the slow, swaying, fiddle-fuelled “Busted” that Ray Charles made a Number One hit, giving it a slight Cajun feeling. Judging by the strength of covers, Jones might be better off making this the first of a few such similar efforts.