May 6, 2013

George Jones: Jones Country...In My Heart...

The world lost country music legend/icon George Jones back on April 26th at the age of 81. He had been admitted to a local hospital on April 18th and as the world knows he passed away on the 26th. This is a CD of two of his greatest 1980's albums...a pair of albums that had never been issued on CD before. The irony is that this collection became available just three days before his death and the liner notes, written perhaps months earlier, obviously do not reflect the upcoming tragedy. The liner notes were written by one named Michael Heatley. This is an import CD from the United Kingdom. JONES COUNTRY, released in the latter part of 1983, has the distinction of being a great album that was lost through the passage of time. This album features 10 songs...and would you believe that the record company, Epic, never released any singles from it? The album itself made the Top-30 on the Country Album chart and had a nice chart run of nearly 30 weeks and yet nobody (except the truly devoted) is aware of it's existence. In fact, way back in the mid 1990's I wrote a letter to a company (before I got on-line) that prided itself on finding hard to find vinyl albums. The company had placed an advertisement in one of the various country music magazines in print at the time. I sent this company a request list, with JONES COUNTRY as one of the releases, and the reply I received indicated that no such album existed.

Fortunately in the next decade, around 2003 or 2004, I came across a vinyl copy of JONES COUNTRY at an on-line site and I purchased it real quick! At that point in time it was one of two studio albums from George during the 1980's that I didn't have in my collection. The other release that I didn't have at the time was the female duet project, LADIES CHOICE. As luck would have it I came across a vinyl album of that particular release, too, and quickly added it to my collection.

In a word, JONES COUNTRY is outstanding!! The album's title is lifted from an outdoor music park that George owned and operated for a period of years in Texas prior to his and Nancy's return to Nashville in 1989. The two had left Nashville at some point in 1982 prior to their marriage in March of 1983. JONES COUNTRY kicks off with the chilling "Radio Lover". This particular song would appear on a compilation from Epic in 1984 titled BY REQUEST but oddly enough it would actually become a commercial single in 1989...a full 6 years after it's debut on vinyl. It's become a fixture on several compilation albums but hardly anyone knows of it's unique history.

Now, although in-your-face recordings are sometimes still recorded in today's country music it's nothing like it once was...and very seldom do songs where a guy tells off a woman gather much acceptance nowadays in an era where it's seen more as chauvinistic than anything else. "Dream On", the album's second track, is a song about a guy informing a woman in his life that he's doing perfectly fine without her and she's dreaming if she thinks that he can't function on his own. "Hello Trouble", a hit for Buck Owens several decades before, is done in great fashion by George as is the lonesome "Burning Bridges", track four. "Burning Bridges" had been a hit single by a singer named Jack Scott in the late 1960's. George's 1983 recording of "Burning Bridges" and the 1983 recording of "Radio Lover" were later included on George's 1989 album, ONE WOMAN MAN. Track five on JONES COUNTRY is the sorrowful "Wino the Clown". This song tells about a homeless wino and the misadventures he has as he makes his way through perhaps the seedy side of town. There's a twist at the end of the song, though.

A pure honky-tonk classic, "You Must Have Walked Across My Mind Again", is track six. In it, George tells of waking up in jail after a wild night of drinking and mayhem. The album's only poignant moment comes with "I'd Rather Die Young Than Grow Old Without You", track seven. Even though it's a romantic song it still carries a hint of danger because we're not too sure of what the man truly could or would do if the woman ever decides to leave him for someone else. One of my all-time favorites from George, "The Girl at the End of the Bar", is next! The music grabs you, first off, and then the story itself of a man who sings about a common scenario of seeing a woman by herself in some bar room. George tells us that she's not there to have a merry old time so it's best to just keep a distance. This is followed by the uptempo "One of These Days But Not Tonight" which celebrates the notion of going sober...but not tonight...there's too much fun to be had. The album closes with the ballad "Famous Last Words" of which George sings about a woman who promised to stay with the man she was with but as things are more likely to do she leaves him for someone else. In the meantime he can't get over those "Famous Last Words"...

Once JONES COUNTRY had been released to retail stores in the latter part of 1983, as mentioned, there were no commercial singles released. Instead, George was heard in duet form with Ray Charles on "We Didn't See a Thing" which also featured lead guitar work from Chet Atkins (credited on the single release as well) so it was technically a trio. This recording, originally found on Ray's FRIENDSHIP album, reached the Top-10 on the country charts in the early part of 1984. Epic/CBS, George's label, featured "We Didn't See a Thing" on the BY REQUEST compilation the same year.

This fills the gap and brings us to 1984's YOU'VE STILL GOT A PLACE IN MY HEART release. Unlike JONES COUNTRY, Epic promoted the 1984 studio album and it reached the Top-20 on the Country album chart. It also didn't hurt that during 1984 there came a biography release on George titled Ragged But Right, written by Dolly Carlisle. It just so happened that one of the songs on George's 1984 album was his re-recording of "I'm Ragged But I'm Right". He had originally recorded the song sometime in the mid '50s. Epic released only one single from this album, though. The title track, "You've Still Got a Place In My Heart", reached the Top-10.

As part of the publicity for the 1984 album, George taped an episode of New Country, a television program on the relatively new cable channel, The Nashville Network. The program was an album spotlight show where each episode featured a different country singer performing almost all the songs from a newly released or upcoming album. This album followed the same musical path of JONES COUNTRY but the label decided to abandon the ballad, uptempo, ballad sequence and instead fill side one of the album (the first five songs) with ballads. The next three were uptempo sing-a-longs while the final two were ballads.

Some of the finest ballads you'd want to hear are "The Second Time Around" which could easily make one think of George's newly found happiness with Nancy. "Come Sundown", "Learning To Do Without Me", "From Strangers, To Lovers, To Friends", and "Your Lying Blue Eyes" are all top-notch ballads. "Learning To Do Without Me", the album's closer, is ironic given the mostly positive feeling following throughout the love songs. The title, "Even the Bad Times Are Good", tells exactly what the song is all about. It's long been reported that in the early years of George and Nancy's marriage the road was rocky and a song like this one seemed to carry a whole different meaning when recorded by George Jones during this point in time.

If you notice, several of the songs on here as well as several on JONES COUNTRY had been recorded by other artists. "Come Sundown", written by Kris Kristofferson, had actually been recorded by George earlier in his career but Bobby Bare had the more widely known recording. Conway Twitty, among others, had recorded "Even The Bad Times Are Good". Even the album's title track, "You've Still Got a Place In My Heart", from the pen of Leon Payne, had been around for quite awhile. It had previously been recorded by Con Hunley in 1978. His version became a Top-20 country hit but it forever more became a George Jones classic in 1984.

"Your Lying Blue Eyes" had been a single for John Anderson several years prior. Anderson had also co-wrote "The Girl at the End of the Bar" from JONES COUNTRY and also co-wrote a gospel song that George recorded in 1979 called "Swoop Down, Sweet Jesus" (that recording would finally make it to disc in 1990 on HALLELUJAH WEEKEND). On the lighter side we have the previously mentioned "I'm Ragged But I'm Right" and we also have the cute "Courtin' in the Rain" in which George tells the story of a young couple and their gradual evolution from dating to attempted marriage...and the man's shyness throughout it all. "Loveshine" is an uptempo honky-tonk song that ironically celebrates sobriety and how great the future looks without the influence of alcohol.

JONES COUNTRY and YOU'VE STILL GOT A PLACE IN MY HEART are two outstanding back to back releases from George Jones and if you're reading this and have no idea about these albums until now don't wait around...there's no telling how long this will remain in print.

Here's the Amazon LINK for anyone thinking about adding this to your collections.

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