(EPIC/SONY LEGACY Release date: Tuesday, June 14. The reviewed item is currently not in the Amazon library)
By Temple A. Stark, Casa Grande, Ariz. RSS Feed
Of all the music in all the world, why does country have to exist in bars?
In thinking about the history of country music, I see a shadowed face, rippling flames and a hand’s fret-flitting fingers gently picking a six-string guitar. This scene and sound accompanies a weathered yet still gentle voice telling stories of life and love and lore. It’s a voice at its softest, merging with the wind.
At the end of the evening the man tips his hat to all, grips the guitar by the neck and walks out of the circle of light to turn in for the night.
There’s a lot of that on what is an amazing two-disc collection, George Jones’ My Very Special Guests.. It’s a sequel to the original 1979 10-track release that’s better than the original, which paired music stars (The original album’s cover of chairs with names on them has been updated). Better because there’s more. The “more” is 27 duets recorded through the 1980s and 1990s — but not with the idea of a package deal in mind. They just happened in the natural flow of that historical river of music we all splash around in.
The country music entertainment leads off with the original LP (long player) songs and the talents of James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, former wife Tammy Wynette, Elvis Costello, and Pop and Mavis Staples. Among others.
These are what pulled me in to the album to start with. I had started trying to guess who was paired with George Jones on each country tune but I was doomed to terrible failure. I just don’t know enough. I might be able to reel off 15 country musicians before stumbling and then exhaust my knowledge in eking out five more.
Instead of wasting my time with that, I closed my eyes.
You can do that with these discs; sit back and listen without doing anything else but listen. It probably helps that these songs (except “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”) are new to me and so they come unfettered by the clash of memories.
Now, admittedly, when I first listened, I needed to be soothed and eased into oblivion on a lazy Saturday morning – though I didn’t realize it at the time. So I was in the right frame of mind for an old soul with a timeless talent. What we get here is the writing craft coming through in tales of life lost, love lost and a way of lore lost to most of today’s balladeers in almost any style.
A SONG JOURNEY
For country fans of any length of time, I imagine it can’t get much better than this journey of 110 minutes and 37 songs through the lives and times of George Jones. The sound quality throughout is outstanding. Every twang comes through as clear as a desert sky.
A few of them rose to the top as I let mental images play on the back of my eyelids. These were the ones I found echoing through the next few tunes.
“All I Want To Do In Life,” with Janie Fricke, has perfect a capella moments in among the drawn fiddle and dampened guitar. I imagined everybody around that fire, whispering the chorus the next morning as they travel to the next town. The two deliver high and low, female and male, voices — stirred together like ice and bourbon.
Whatever you think of Willie Nelson, most of it is confirmed on “I Gotta Get Drunk”, which he wrote in the mid-1970s. There’s a lot of good doctors keep telling me, George you better start slowing you down. But there are more old drunks then there are old doctors so I guess we better have another round.”
We know there’s more to Willie, but he enjoys rolling in rebellion and other artists take him often as a welcome change of pace inside otherwise more traditional material.
Just yesterday – on a Legends CD collection infomercial – I saw an old clip of Linda Ronstadt and she was the hot, self-possessed property of her time. Here on “I’ve Turned You to Stone” she stares down Jones with a kiss-off goodbye masked as a lovely, demure serenade. Jones is reduced to plaintive back-up singer, a longing wish loud in his hushed voice.
We Sure Make Good Love offers old-fashioned non-family values: (Jones) “We never will go down in history / as the all-American family. / The house needs paintin’ and the ceiling leaks. / But you understand / I’m no handy man. …” (Loretta Lynn) “I won’t be noted for my fine cuisine / unless you’re in the front baking them beans. / Domestic life has never been my thing. / Between me and you / there’s one thing we can do. / (Both) We sure make good love. That’s more than enough. / It makes up for what we mess up. / We sure make good love.
Soon after I caught myself wondering whether George Jones delivery was going to take the pole position place above Johnny Cash in my humble estimation, the “Man In Black” came along to sing “I Got Stripes” with the original “No-Show Jones” and reminded me – no, not yet. They work well together and I don’t know how much else is out there with the two of them together but based on this collaboration, if it’s there, I want to find it.
CCR’s “Proud Mary,” with Johnny Paycheck, was the first change of pace – a metal pedal push into rock and roll. BB King, Pop and Mavis Staples, Ray Charles and Shelby Lynne also offer rounded dimensions to the album. With “Patches” King and Jones were part of a 1994 C&W-R&B project titled Rhythm Country and Blues and King offers the first deep swamp spirit of the disc with a spoken element that offers up the feel of life in a different part of the same city.
The two songs I least enjoyed – and it can’t be a coincidence – were the pair-ups with Alan Jackson (“A Good Year For The Roses”) and Vince Gill (“The Love Bug”). So, the problem must be with my unwelcoming ears to modern overproduction or just the detection of something pampered lurking in the timber of the voices.
Earlier on I said, this 2-CD set is amazing. Why? Well, it’s country and I like it. And I listened to it over and over, without feeling even the slightest stomach heave. It cannot be underestimated – that’s amazing.
The man who when I first laid eyes on him – on the inside of this CD – brought to mind the illegitimate offspring of Jim Carrey, Jimmy Swaggart and Ernest Borgnine, has through the years kept it simple and direct in his music, if this album is anything to go by. And ever-changing in the tales told. If country music radio was like this, I would listen more. But I don’t follow country. Every song I accidentally hear on the radio I switch before the second bar.
So it’s good where those like George Jones keep the faith. This release takes playing “possum” seriously. I can think of no reason why a fan wouldn’t be overjoyed with this jamboree under the stars.
1. Night Life – with Waylon Jennings
2. Bartender’s Blues – with James Taylor
3. Here We Are – with Emmylou Harris
4. I’ve Turned You To Stone – with Linda Ronstadt
5. It Sure Was Good – with Tammy Wynette
6. I Gotta Get Drunk – with Willie Nelson
7. Proud Mary – with Johnny Paycheck
8. Stranger In The House – with Elvis Costello
9. I Still Hold Her Body (But I Think I’ve Lost Her Mind) – with Dennis & Ray of Dr. Hook
10. Will The Circle Be Unbroken – with Pop and Mavis Staples
11. A Few Ole Country Boys – with Randy Travis
12. It Hurts As Much In Texas (As It Did In Tennessee) – with Ricky Van Shelton
13. You Never Looked That Good When You Were Mine – with Patti Page
14. All I Want To Do In Life – with Janie Fricke
15. Wonderful World Outside – with Ralph Stanley
16. You Can’t Do Wrong and Get By – with Ricky Skaggs
17. You Don’t Seem To Miss Me – with Patty Loveless
18. Patches – with B.B. King
1. A Good Year For The Roses – with Alan Jackson
2. Yesterday’s Wine – with Merle Haggard
3. Our Love Was Ahead Of Its Time – Deborah Allen
4. We Sure Make Good Love – with Loretta Lynn
5. Size Seven Round (Made Of Gold) – with Lacy J. Dalton
6. I Got Stripes – with Johnny Cash
7. Fiddle And Guitar Band – with Charlie Daniels
8. We Didn’t See A Thing – with Ray Charles, Chet Atkins
9. The Love Bug – with Vince Gill
10. Love’s Gonna Live Here – with Buck Owens
11. If I Could Bottle This Up – with Shelby Lynne
12. If You Can Touch Her At All – with Lynn Anderson
13. All That We’ve Got Left – with Vern Gosdin
14. This Bottle (In My Hand) – with David Allan Coe
15. Talking To Hank – with Mark Chesnutt
16. Never Bit A Bullet Like This – with Sammy Kershaw
17. The Race Is On – with Travis Tritt
18. I’ve Been There – with Tim Mensy
19. Traveller’s Prayer – with Sweethearts Of The Rodeo
TempleStark.com is my personal Web site.