Friday, August 22, 2008

George Jones Does It Again!

Do you like country music? Do you really love country music? Do you love real country music? If so, you're probably a huge George Jones fan. Nobody like George "Possum" Jones has been one of the top roosters in the barnyard since the 1950's. The "Possum" is both an unequalled talent and a survivor (both personally and professionally.) His new release, Burn Your Playhouse Down: The Unreleased Duets, collects recordings over the last few decades feauting the country legend's smooth as Tennessee Whiskey singing mixed with a variety of artists including rock legends like Keith Richards, Leon Russell and Mark Knopfler to country mainstays like Tammy Wynette (his ex), Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, and Ricky Skaggs right up to current country chart-toppers like Mark Chesnutt and Jim Lauderdale. Yeah, yeah, the "country duet" sub-genre is something that has been played to death in recent years uniting country powerhouses with every kind of show-biz sensation to where the prospects of Shania Twain coming out of hiding to do a hit single with P Diddy doesn't seem so unlikely though calling Twain's music truecountry is a bit of a stretch to this listener's thinking.

The highlight of the album is the title track uniting George Jones and Keith Richards. That those two guys could record together, that both were alive and well in the same room is a miracle of Biblical significance. Between their personal bad habits and self destructive behavior with drugs and alcohol coupled with life threatening events be it Jones' vehicular accident or Richards falling out of a tree in the tropics, the world is blessed to have two guys with lots of miles on them still big shots in their profession. Their combined performance is a thing of pure joy full of passion and mischief in their singing, energy in their performanace, and all the Nashville cats in top form playing hard rockin' pure country honky tonk heaven. Keith Richards has never turned in a better lead vocal performance, period. That old bloke sounds like he's having the time of a lifetime not having to play second fiddle (er uhm rhythm guitar) for Mick Jagger whose not so bad at turning country on ocassion. George Jones is...well...George Jones, enough said. The free-flowing transitions from one instrumental soloist to the next is vintage Nashville at its finest. The song is an instant classic. Slide in the CD or click to download, and there it is, a song that lines up with "White Lightenin'" for Jones' fans and "Happy" for Richards' fans.

There's a lot of other tasty stuff on this fine little album. The album opens with "You and Me and Time" teamed up with Georgette Jones, who's the daughter of Tammy Wynette and some guy she married and once recorded with. It's fine, mellow, modern country ballad. The next number is a natural for Leon Russell to join in, "The Window Up Above." Leon struck country gold when he recorded with Willie Nelson when Willie's career was white hot in the late 70's. Ricky Skaggs signs the guest list on the next number, a prototypical George Jones ballad, "She Once Lived Here." It's a natural for both country boys. The next track opens with beautiful mandolin pickin's and possum whaling in his best "He Stopped Loving Her Today" country voice, the duet partner is that old mountain girl who has been around the globe a few times, Dolly Parton. "Rockin' Years" provides a great number for two of country music's most famous stars to stretch it out together. Neither outshines the other. They've been down that road before. Keith Richards drops in for the next cut, already discussed. Vince Gill steps up for the next number, "Selfishness in Man." another tear-jerkin' ballad with superb instrumental backing. "Tavern Choir" is the kind of tune only George Jones could get away with. It's one of those sentimental cornpone numbers singing about Willie Nelson after his death and his last that? Somehow George Jones with partner Jim Lauderdale makes it work. Shelby Lynne steps forward for the next number, "I Always Get It Right With You," nothing special, just a nice laid-back ballad. Yet, every song on this album gives the listener another taste of all of the master's singing tricks and nuances. "When The Grass Grows Over Me" brings on current big shot, Mark Chesnutt center stage on probably the most predictable formulaic tune on the album. It's almost like Jones is fighting with one arm tied behind his back so as not to show up the up and coming up and comer or whatever Chesnutt is. Starting down the home stretch is one of Possum Jones most famous hits, "I Always Get Lucky With You," united with Dire Straits' mastermind, music genre bender, Mark Knopfler who blends right in like a good buddy sitting on the next barstool. His guitar solo fits right in as does his laid back vocal performance, a sleepy eyed, little gem not even trying to emulate George Jones' masterful singing. Marty Stuart kicks the tempo up to a nice honky-tonk standard with "You're Still On My Mind." It's a nice little good old boy get-together -- the good old "I've been drinkin', I've been stinkin'" country classic. As if by now folks familiar with George Jones and duets hadn't thought of the possibility, "Hmm, he sure used to sound good with Tammy, there was a little magic left in the can with "Lovin' You, Lovin' Me." It's not their best duet by any means, but it's a reminder of the wild and beautiful chemistry they once shared. It's hard to believe Tammy's been gone for ten years now, dead at age 55, with lots of fuel left in the tank.

This is one fine little album. The transatlantic handshake between eternal bad boys "Keef and Possum" playfully performing the title track makes it a nice album to own. There are plenty of other fine numbers that remind the listener, when it comes to country music, the whole genre has never mastered keeping up with this Jones. Play this album, and almost certainly some of the other George Jones' CD's on the shelf will be spinning in short order. "Yabba-dubba do, the king is gone and so is you...."

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