Riffs: Box sets capture George Jones’ Musicor days

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 12:43am
 George Jones' Musicor publicity photo

Throughout a stellar career that began in earnest during the mid-1950s, George Jones has been country's finest pure vocal stylist.

A champion at heartache ballads and outstanding in every other style as well, Jones' brilliance has kept him in good standing during periods of artistic triumph and times of personal trouble. Though he's not heard much these days on contemporary country radio, many of the males (and plenty of the females for that matter) whose songs make those tight playlists are quick to cite their love for Jones' music and his impact and influence on their work.

Among his many great periods, none were more consistently impressive than his time at the New York based-label Musicor. Between 1965 and 1971, Jones and longtime producer Harold "Pappy" Daily cranked out an incredible 280 songs. Some were good, many were classics, but there was inevitably throwaway and forgettable material due to the output and the Daily penchant for rapid recording and one-take sessions. Jones also operated in every conceivable song situation.

There were terse narratives and sentimental homages, numbers with intricate (for three minutes or less) story lines and others with novelty pitches or humorous asides. Jones did duets and pieces with heavy orchestration, then would contrast those with sparsely backed songs and others featuring the backing of "The Jones Boys," a studio unit that included fiddler Charlie Justice, steel guitarist Sonny Curtis, drummer Glen Davis, guuitarist Jerry Starr and a bassist named Johnny Paycheck, who'd later become a star as a vocalist.

Jones also did many epic duets, teaming with at various times Melba Montgomery (his best partner during that time), Brenda Carter and even pop star Gene Pitney.

Various Jones’ Musicor albums have been circulating for years, but now almost his entire crop of recordings for the label (except for those with Pitney) have been compiled on two exhaustive boxed sets by Bear Family.

George Jones — Walk Through The World With Me, The Complete Musicor Recordings 1965-1971, Parts 1 & 2 together assemble 273 recordings on nine CDs (five on Vol 1., four on Vol. 2) plus comprehensive and highly entertaining liner notes from Rich Kienzle (one of the nation's premier country historians) and a full Jones discography by Don Roy, Kittra Moore, Richard Weize and Guy Ewald.

There's also alternate takes and false starts, a practice with boxed sets that can be irritating, but does fully demonstrate the tweaking and adjustments that occur during sessions.

The greatest aspect of the set is hearing the marvelous Jones voice and approach developing and evolving, as well as his ability to jell with partners Montgomery and Carter. His great mid-song shifts from mid to high register, stretching out words and extending phrases, and dramatic emphasis were all perfectly utilized on many Musicor releases.

This period from a strictly commercial standpoint might not have been his greatest, but it was clearly one of his busiest. These Bear Family sets chronicle an important time in Jones’ career, and gives fans a chance to hear almost all these songs in one setting.

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