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George Jones

I Am What I Am (Expanded Edition) – 2000 (Epic/Legacy)

Reviewed by Joel Bernstein

Even his staunchest fans will likely admit that George Jones' reputation as country music's greatest singer is not based on the overall quality of his albums. Jones' numerous albums generally adhere to the old formula of two or three singles and lots of filler. 1980's "I Am What I Am" ranks as one of the Possum's best albums simply because the formula was executed unusually well. It yielded three great Top Ten hits. "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)," Tom T. Hall's "I'm Not Ready Yet" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today," one of the few recordings for which the term "instant classic" is not ridiculous. The filler is much better than Jones' norm and several other tracks could have been singles. Billy Sherrill, perhaps the most underappreciated producer in country music history, coaxed great performances out of Jones, who was still beset by personal demons at the time.

This expanded edition released as part of Sony's "American Milestones" series adds four previously unreleased tracks recorded at around the same time as the album. These are of much better quality than one would expect. They're all tearjerkers and presumably were left off for that reason (the album had plenty already) but added on after the more uptempo songs that end the original album, they're a real plus and make an already fine disc even better.