George Jones takes responsibility in comeback album

Published October 1, 1999

EVER SINCE Adam blamed Eve when he was caught with his mouth full of the forbidden fruit, it has been part of the human condition to deflect blame to someone other than us when things go awry. Be it an individual family member or co-worker, a group of people of the government, God or the devil, all are common targets for this passing off of responsibility.[pullquote]Far rarer is the person who looks you square in the eye and says “nobody’s fault but mine.” That is what is so refreshing about veteran country artist George Jones’ comeback album “Cold Hard Truth.” It is transfixing, even somewhat chilling, when one considers his personal circumstances.The 68-year-old Jones reached his commercial heyday 20 years ago with the record-breaking 1980 chart-topper, He Stopped Loving Her Today, but he has been topping the charts since 1959. He has enjoyed more charted singles than any other artist in any genre, 158 in all. However, Jones was a tortured soul while on tour. His long-time problems with alcohol got even worse once he was smitten with other drugs in the ’70s. He hit bottom in the early ’80s, cleaned up, and has been an elder statesman of country music during the recent years of relative tranquility in his life. Or so we thought. In March this year, he totalled his sport utility vehicle, and news hit that he had a belly full of vodka at the time. His recuperation has been slow. All of this makes Cold Hard Truth, recorded early this year, all the more uncanny. Unabashedly autobiographical, it sees Jones come face to face with his demons. The opening track and leadoff single Choices, for instance, sees Jones clearly address his love of alcohol from an early age. He then sings with resignation with that unmistakable vocal: “I guess I’m paying / For the things that I have done /If I could go back / Oh Lord knows I’d run / But I’m still losing / This game of life I play / Living and dying with the choices I made.” The point is driven home with the title track. The two characters are the narrator – one who would make excuses and blame problems on everyone and everything else – and the reality checker called “the cold hard truth” who has known him all of his life. Musically, these pieces, along with such other key tracks as the fatalistic love song, Day After Forever, and the passing of forgiveness ode, When the Last Curtain Falls, are textbook Jones. As such, they are tear-jerking country ballads that highlight that unmistakable voice. A bonus, ironically enough, is that Jones’s accident made late studio touch-ups impossible. (He was unconscious for 12 days after the accident, when post-production was to be going on.) Therefore, there are only first-take vocals, and the producers wisely chose a minimum of studio sweetenings as embellishment. This gives a more authentic feel to the visceral music. Just as real are the hillbilly two-steps that flesh out the package. They include Ain’t Love a Lot Like That and Real Deal. The key song of this ilk, though, is the country boogie piece, Sinners and Saints. In it, Jones gives a witty synopsis of people who would be scorned by “good” church-going folk, only to have these very people given their comeuppance by the preacher’s words: “The only thing different in sinners and saints / Is one is forgiven and the other one ain’t.” In that none of us are worthy in our own merits, and all of us are saved despite our individual frailties by God’s Grace, George Jones rings true again. Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain of the University of New runswick, Fredericton, and music critic for the Fredericton Gleaner.


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