The Essential George Jones
(Epic/Legacy) - By Jim Newsom - Tuesday, Apr. 18, 2006
REAL COUNTRY: George Jones is the archetypal country singer. Born in a log cabin in east
Texas and raised on gospel music in church and Carter Family records at home, he
left school at sixteen, married and divorced young, spent a couple of years in the Marines,
cut some sides for a small record company, performed with Elvis Presley, boozed, brawled
and rode atop the country charts for 30 years.
The Essential George Jones tells his story in music, collecting forty songs recorded between
1954 and 1999, tracing the career of one of the true greats of the genre. Listening to the early
sides, we see that Jones started out as a Hank Williams disciple, with the first four tracks
sounding more like ol' Hank than young Possum. But as the set progresses, Jones' own distinctive
style emerges. Old Rock-n-Rollers will remember "White Lightning" a silly rockabilly novelty
hit in 1959, and "The Race is On" from the Beatle summer of 1964, but it's his string of
number one country ballads that best defines the Jones legacy. "The Window Up Above,"
"Tender Years" and the classic "She Thinks I Still Care" defined the sound of Nashville
in the early '60s in much the same way that Patsy Cline's records did, with that tinkly
Floyd Cramer - style piano in the forefront and full vocal chorus in the background.
Essential has a six-year gap in its chronology, as Legacy was apparently unable to acquire
the rights to Jones' output for Musicor Records in the second half of the '60s. But it
picks up again with his 1971 duet with third wife Tammy Wynette, the beginning of a
particularly fruitful four-year period back at the top. It was anything but fruitful
for Jones personally, though, as he dug deeper into the bottle, added cocaine to the mix,
and developed a reputation for missing concerts that earned him the moniker "No-Show
Jones." He and Tammy separated, reconciled, then divorced, and his song titles reflected the
mess his life had become: "These Days (I Barely Get By)," "I Just Don't Give a Damn,"
"A Drunk Can't Be a Man," and "Stand on My Own Two Knees."
Ironically, though he was bottoming out with drug addiction, public rampages and a
televised police chase through the streets of Nashville, Jones reappeared at the top
of the charts in 1980 with the tear-jerking classic, "He Stopped Loving Her Today,"
launching another musically successful run that included #1 hits "Still Doin' Time"
and "I Always Get Lucky with You."
After finally detoxing in 1983 following his fourth marriage, he continued to hit the
country charts with songs like "The Right Left Hand" and "I'm a One Woman Man" until
the hat acts of "new country" bumped him off the radio playlists for good. Through
the '90s he was more elder statesman that hitmaker, but at the end of the decade he
briefly reappeared on the air with "Choices," a song given added poignancy by a drunken
car crash during its recording sessions.
George Jones epitomized the sound of country music before the rough edges were sanded
off by big money and big corporations. His music came straight from the heart, full
of soul, twangy, often clichéd, but always real.
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