“If we all could sound like we wanted to, we’d all sound like George Jones”. So sang no less an authority on the subject than Waylon Jennings, he of the famous nasal twang and enviable phrasing. Even the greats, it seems, recognize George Jones as greater still.
And, for good reason.
In his now 60-year career, Jones amassed some 150 hits, inspired countless acolytes, and even (for awhile, anyway) defined the Nashville sound. Of course, he also came to embody the blundering bad boy, the drunken wild man running through women, bottles of booze and piles of cocaine with an appetite matched only by his capacity for heartbreak and shame. The troubled genius of country music–a spiritual heir to Hank Williams, perhaps–Jones followed up a lengthy period on top of the world in the 1960s with an extended wander around the boozy wilderness in the ’70s and beyond, acquiring the name “No Show Jones” for his frequent failures to make his own gigs. Today, ten years sober, the 81 year old has announced that he has embarked on his farewell tour, and that his next record (a collection of duets with Dolly Parton) will be his finale. Time for a rest.
This collection covers a brief, but amazingly diverse, period in Jones’ career. In 1962 (after about seven years in the limelight following his 1955 breakthrough, “Why Baby Why”), Jones signed to United Artists and immediately managed a chart-topping classic with “She Thinks I Still Care”, among the best country songs (and performances) you’ll ever hear. He stayed with the label for four years, during which time he released fifteen more A-sides (and, of course, their B-sides) all of which are found on this collection.
Completists, rejoice. Everyone else, rip this CD to the computer and make a playlist.
The problem here is simply that, in giving us every song Jones released with the label in those four years, we wind up with material that is transcendent and extraordinary–“She Thinks I Still Care”, “The Race Is On”, “Brown To Blue”, “A Girl I Used To Know”, “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win”, “Beacon in the Night”– alongside more than a few underdeveloped songs (typically, but not always, the B-sides) that gum up the works.
And then there are the few, but unavoidable, failed forays into minor genres –Jones’ take on the “Indian” ballad (“Geronimo”), for instance, is a smelly mess of stereotype and corn, while “He’s So Good To Me” is an instantly forgettable waltzing pop gospel song. Plus, it’s hard to celebrate the mid-album inclusion of a couple utterly mood-shattering Christmas songs. So, while I commend the creation and release of this CD, it’s just a bit tough to wholly recommend something that involves such a disjointed listening experience.
Then again, if you’ve never heard George Jones, there are worse places to start. And you need to start.