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George Jones

The Battle/Memories Of Us – 1999 (Koch)

Reviewed by Dan Williams

"The Battle" is a stunner - a 1976 LP that served as an epitaph to Jones' then-recent divorce from Tammy Wynette. Out of the wreckage of that marriage, and what became some of his bleakest, most booze-shattered days, he cobbled together one of the great wounded laments in country music history.

It's a powerful album, and much of its hold stems from its admirably schizoid nature. In ballads like "Baby, There's Nothing Like You" and "You Always Look Your Best," Jones attempts to maintain a brave face and carry on in the best manner he knows how. It's the same kind of stoicism-cum-denial that underscores such classic recordings as "She Thinks I Still Care," and "The Window Up Above."

Midway through, though, the focus shifts, and you're blindsided with "Wean Me," one of the most convincing alcoholic confessionals on record. "Take this bottle from my hand," he sings, and "wean me." He follows by further plumbing the depths with the way-downcast "Love Coming Down," before seemingly ending on a hopeful note with David Allan Coe's "I Still Sing The Sad Songs." Jones' singing is stellar throughout - precise and modulated; yet packing a depth of feeling that remains remarkable.This is classic ache; in a class with Willie Nelson's "Phases and Stages" as a soundtrack for the 3 AM blues.

"Memories" (1975) can't help but suffer by comparison and doesn't resonate nearly as sharply. The material is more scattershot - and suffers from assembly-line production - but there are still pleasures to be had. Jones inhabits such ballads as the title track and "What I Do Best" with majestic grace. "Have You Seen My Chicken" is an agreeable novelty, propelled along nicely by chicken-scratch guitar. And, while "The Battle" closes with a measure of hope, "Memories" plays out with the decidedly downbeat "I Just Don't Give A Damn," seemingly much closer to his true feelings at the time.

Any newcomer taken with "Cold Hard Truth," Jones' recent return to form, by all means needs to check this pair out.