George Jones: A Picture of Me (Without You) / Nothing Ever Hurt Me (Half as Bad as Losing You)

georgejones_picturemenothingeverStellar twofer of Jones’ early work with Billy Sherrill

By the early 1970s, George Jones had through lived enough personal and professional experience for several mere mortals. He’d been discovered by producer Pappy Daily, broke as a hardcore honky-tonker in the mid-50s, graduated into a compelling balladeer by decade’s end, notched solo and duet classics throughout the ’60s, developed a drinking habit that begat his “No Show Jones” nickname, divorce his second wife to marry Tammy Wynette (with whom he launched a successful string of duet releases), and left Daily behind when he signed with Epic in 1971. Epic teamed Jones with legendary countrypolitan producer Billy Sherrill, and after the optimistic, love-soaked George Jones (We Can Make It), the duo dug into this superb pair of albums.

1972’s A Picture of Me (Without You) finds Jones and Sherrill getting more comfortable with one another. Sherrill’s influence dominates the backgrounds with tight arrangements, measured tempos, smoothing touches of piano and strings, and backing vocals by the Jordanaires. There’s a good helping of pedal steel, but it’s Jones’ voice that turns Sherrill’s productions from a sticky trap into winning contrast. Jones sounds remarkably comfortable throughout these sessions, singing with the ease with which others merely speak. He’d recorded (and would again record) more pyrotechnically astonishing performances, but singing songs that reflected his troubled marriage, he connected at a basic human level with his material.

1973’s Nothing Ever Hurt Me stretches in two directions, with Sherrill’s arrangements a shade slicker and Jones’ vocals a notch rawer. Even the ballads, like Don Gibson’s “Made for the Blues,” are sung in a straight country tone, without any sort of croon. Sherrill uses acoustic guitars to add a folksy edge to the layers of strings. Thematically, things seem to have been going better in the Jones-Wynette household, as the album features several love songs, and drinking only figures into the closer, “Wine (You’ve Used Me Long Enough).” Then again, the drinking song was a Jones-Wynette co-write, so who knows? As on the previous album, there are numerous individual highlights, including a solemn cover of Lefty Frizzell’s “Mom and Dad’s” waltz that gives Jones a chance to dig into his lower notes.

Given the huge amount of material Jones recorded for Musicor (before hopping to Epic) throughout the ’60s, it’s a wonder that he had anything left to give. The opportunity to slow down, pick and write songs, and work through arrangements with a strong-willed but sympathetic producer seems to have tapped into yet another reservoir of artistry. Jones has released nearly a hundred albums over the course of fifty years, but most were showcases for hit singles and filler; few were as solid as this pair. Though a greatest hits package is a good place to get a broader look, this two-fer is a terrific introduction to the basic elements of Jones’ artistry. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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