Where to start? Well, this coming April will see country legend George Jones touring outside the United States for the last time as he does a cross-country Canadian tour. An upcoming gospel album will also be released around that time. But for “Possum” as he’s known endearingly to fans, it’s more of what he’s done for nearly half a century now—touring, recording and singing his classics. Most of these “love” classics have been compiled in this great collection, although it does have one or two questionable selections.
From the initial tickling of the ivories and the subtle orchestration, “A Picture of Me (Without You)” is still just as powerful today as it was when it was released in 1972. Possessing all the characteristics of a great honky-tonk with a slight gospel tint throughout, Jones nails the broken heart on the head. “You’re Still Got a Place in My Heart” sounds a tad more contemporary and with a blues/jazz flavor courtesy of some loose piano and harmonica work. But the singer makes it into his own simply by giving a trademark delivery and performance. Some of the tunes though tend to be glitzy to the extreme, especially the strings used on “I’ll Take You to My World”. The backing vocals and the pedal steel guitar are drowned by some bland string arrangements.
What is most remarkable though is that this album is taken primarily from four albums Jones recorded in between 1972 and 1973. Four albums in two years seems incredible now, but even more amazing is that three albums recorded during this period aren’t included, making it seven in two years! “Love Lives Again”, selected from his “Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Loving You)”, is just over two minutes but seems to flow easier than the previous track. “(What Love Can Do) The Second Time Around” is one of the more personal and autobiographical tracks Jones recorded. Recorded in 1984 and in his post-booze, post-Tammy Wynette phase, Jones sings that “he’s going to get it right this time” and he certainly did.
Another aspect that is rather surprising centers on the songwriting credits. Of the 15 songs here, you won’t find a writing or co-writing credit under “Jones”. But his ability to turn a song like Johnny Paycheck’s “Once You Had the Best” into his own makes originals seem like feeble copies. “I Always Get Lucky with You” has him culminating the number with some minimal vocal theatrics while “Loving You Could Never Be Better” is one of the strongest songs here, especially during the chorus sections. All of the numbers follow a similar sound and blueprint courtesy of producer Billy Sherill, who produced all of the tracks on this and literally dozens of the singer’s albums.
George Jones could probably make a box set of such “love” songs, but the core of his classics is here for the listening. “We Can Make It” is adventurous in its stop-and-start arrangements despite just eking over two minutes. And the singer never needs anything other than his guitar and his voice to get his point across time and time again. “What My Woman Can’t Do” is another stellar track but “She Hung the Moon” is a bit of a sloppy and bland tune that sounds forced. “You Oughta Be Here with Me” was recorded in 1990 but is definitely a throwback to the early seventies classics.
And no greatest hits collection or any serious look at his career would be complete with “He Stopped Loving Her Day”. Taking the phase “‘til death to us part” to its logical and somber conclusion, the song is a fitting finale to what is a great album that just skims the surface of this living embodiment of pre-Garth country and western music.
// Notes from the Road
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