George Jones | The Essential George Jones (Epic/Legacy)

This two-disc, 40-track set aims for somewhere in between. Some of the lesser hits aren’t included, while some non-hits help give a more rounded overview of Jones’ catalog. Arranged roughly in chronological order, the tracks map Jones’ career arc from his first releases on Starday Records through his top-40 hit, “Choices,” released in 1999.

Distilling the 50-year career of one of the world’s greatest country singers into a single release has to be a story of tradeoffs. The two extremes for a career retrospective are the greatest-hits approach (still problematic for a singer with more than 50 top-ten hits) or the all-inclusive box set approach. This two-disc, 40-track set aims for somewhere in between. Some of the lesser hits aren’t included, while some non-hits help give a more rounded overview of Jones’ catalog. Arranged roughly in chronological order, the tracks map Jones’ career arc from his first releases on Starday Records through his top-40 hit, “Choices,” released in 1999.

In the late ’50s, Jones sounds like a Hank Williams knockoff with “No Money in This Deal” and his first hit, “Why Baby Why.” His first #1, a cover of fellow Beaumont, Texas, native J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson’s “White Lightening,” marks a brief foray into rockabilly territory. But in the early ’60s, he finds what most would identify as the typical George Jones sound with the reflective ballad “Out of Control” and two of his many signature songs, “The Window Up Above” and “She Thinks I Still Care.”

Starday co-owner Harold “Pappy” Daily had signed Jones to a contract that remained in effect through the ’60s. At Daily’s direction, Jones recorded for Mercury, United Artists, and Musicor Records, finishing his stint with UA with two cuts included here, “The Race is On” and the first of Jones’ classic duets, “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” with Melba Montgomery.

After marrying Tammy Wynette in 1969, Jones attempted to convince Musicor and Wynette’s label, Epic, to allow them to record together. Unable to negotiate concessions from either side, Jones eventually severed his ties with Musicor and longtime collaborator Daily to sign with Epic. Two of these duets with Wynette, “Take Me” and “We Loved It Away,” are included on this collection. With the move to Epic came a change in producers with Billy Sherrill replacing Daily. This marked a significant shift in Jones’ sound with Sherrill’s pop-influenced string-laden production. Although this countrypolitan style was and continues to be controversial among hardcore country fans, it seems well suited to Jones and resulted in his greatest hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

Neither Jones’ time with Musicor nor with MCA in the early ’90s are represented here. Whether due to issues with song licensing or a conscious artistic decision, these gaps are the only nit to pick with this collection. The exclusion of “Love Bug” seems acceptable; no “A Good Year for the Roses” less so. Balancing this out are excellent liner notes by country music journalist Rich Kienzle. It’s a story of tradeoffs.

RIYL: Ray Price, Dale Watson, Charlie Rich


Purchase downloads for this artist at our BurnLounge

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply