RIFFS: New reissue spotlights classic George Jones releases

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 12:00am
riffsVERT.jpg

The George Jones/Billy Sherrill tandem were at their peak during the early 1970s, the time when the original vinyl albums A Picture of Me (Without You) and Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You) were released. The first came out in 1972, while the second was issued a year later.

But now both of these albums have now been reissued on a single CD A Picture of Me (Without You)/Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half As Bad As Losing You (American Beat/Sony) and they’re a model for what makes Jones not just country’s greatest living vocalist, but one of the most soulful and forceful in any genre.

Each LP not only featured Sherrill’s production and the equally important engineering of Lou Bradley, but also the harmony vocals of the Jordanaires, and were a mix of classic covers and new songs, though in both cases the choices were ideal.

First, not a single number among the 22 selections is more than three minutes, and most are between two and two and a half. There are no wasted solos, no aimless passages and no excess sagas. The songs get right to the point, Jones hits them quick and hard, and you get story, hook and conclusion.

Yet none of them sound dry, generic or detached, a tribute to his ability to make every situation and performance sound like it’s his first.

Tom T. Hall contributed “Second Hand Flowers” to the first album and “Never Having You” to the second, while the covers included stirring versions of Don Gibson’s “Made For The Blues” and Lefty Frizzell’s “Mom and Dad’s Waltz” on Nothing Ever Hurt Me and an equally excellent version of “Tomorrow Never Comes” (co-written by Johnny Bond and Ernest Tubb) on A Picture of Me.

Jones contributed some of his own songs to Nothing Ever Hurt Me, co-writing “You’re Looking At A Happy Man” with Carmol Taylor, teaming with Sherrill and Earl Montgomery on “What My Woman Can’t Do” and the incredibly ironic (both in terms of the time and now) “Wine (You’ve Used Me Long Enough),” which he co-wrote with former wife Tammy Wynette. These are predominantly earnest, often anguished testimonials and tearjerkers, though there’s also the occasional change-up tune like “You’re Looking At A Happy Man” or “That Singing Friend of Mine.”

Above all, these are true story songs, and testaments to the ability of great songwriters to condense and fit a memorable tale into a concise musical space.

American Beat has other classic country releases, as well as titles in rock, blues, soul and pop. This pair of George Jones gems is certainly among the label's finest releases.

Contemporary country

The five-song EP Jedd Hughes (Carnival) lets the brilliant Australian guitarist stretch his wings without concern that he’s too far afield stylistically.

He includes a fine cover of Rodney Crowell’s “I Want You #35,” but otherwise the focus is on Hughes own writing. Besides displaying his mastery of acoustic, electric and resonator guitar and even throwing in some refrains on bassoon (“Baby Don’t It”) Hughes also credibly handles the vocals on “I Wish You Were Here” and “Scatter Brain.”

Key musical contributors include Dan Dugmore on pedal steel, Derek Mixon or Shawn Fichter on drums, Kevin Vonderhofen or Bryn Davies on bass and background vocalist Hillary Lindsey, who’s also featured on “Scatter Brain” (which Lindsey also co-wrote).

Americana

He’s worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin to The Replacements, and Jim Dickinson’s way of making music is without a doubt different and distinct.

His new CD Dinosaurs Run In Circles (Merless) can best be described as a genuine Dickinson article. It has humor (“A Chicken Ain’t Nothing But A Bird,” “Who Threw The Whiskey In The Well”) and grit (“Early In the Morning,” “The Gypsy,” “Hard Times (No One Known Better Than I”), plus his usual enchanting way of playing piano and the equally unusual yet effective backing of bassist Sam Shoup and drummer Tom Lonardo.

Dickinson certainly doesn’t concern himself with replicating Tin Pan Alley sensibility in his cover of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” and it’s fairly certain that Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer might have had a different interpretation in mind when they penned the original version of “Easy Street.” But they would no doubt also recognize that Jim Dickinson takes their soul and sings it his way with passion and authority, qualities that have always marked Dickinson’s productions, writing, performances and discs.

If you missed the recent CD launch, don’t pass on Scott Miller and the Commonwealth’s For Crying Out Loud (F.A.Y.)

Cut at different junctures around town in such locales as Electric Piggy Land, Westwood Studio, Doug Lancio’s Basement and the Doghouse, Miller soars and powers his way through several prime tunes, among them “Appalachian Refugee,” “Double Indemnity,” “Iron Gate,” “Heart In Harm’s Way” and “Wildcat Whistle.” The Commonwealth is in great form behind, and his guest roster includes Tim O’Brien on “I Can’t Dance” and Patty Griffin on “I’m Right Here, My Love.”

This is freewheeling, energetic and frenetic music that doesn’t lose steam or drive at any time.