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George Jones gets better with age

The Grove of Anaheim, Anaheim, Cal., Feb. 17, 2004

By Dan MacIntosh

ANAHEIM, CA - George Jones is one of the last of the hardcore troubadours and a consistent road warrior. And at times, his concerts can take on a workmanlike, punch-the-old-time-clock kind of a feel.

But that did not happen tonight, because this was by no means just another day at the office for old George. Maybe his spirited demeanor can be linked to having singers Barry Smith and Sherri Copeland to spar with vocally throughout the evening, or perhaps he was simply in a particularly good mood. But for whatever reason, Jones visibly enjoyed himself from start to finish this evening.

As usual, Jones kidded about his past drinking days in between songs, and sang a lot of sad songs along the way, such as that permanent repertoire item, "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

Yet this was certainly not a paint-by-numbers George Jones show. For instance, he also included the distinctly tropical sounding, "I'll Give You Something To Drink About," where he sang with a silly, nagging womanish voice during the tune's lighthearted chorus. This Jimmy Buffett-esque moment was a welcome change of pace, during what amounted to an otherwise slow and honk-tonk-centric concert.

And near the end of the night, he brought out Copeland to play the role of Tammy Wynette, for a duet of "Golden Ring." Copeland also proved to be quite the vocal impersonator when she pulled off a spot-on Vestal Goodman imitation for the gospel sounds of "Mansion Over the Hilltop." And speaking of inspirational music, Jones also sang "I Know A Man Who Can" from his recent "The Gospel Collection."

When it comes to performing live, Jones has never been what you might call a high tech redneck. Except for the video montages displayed during a few numbers, such as those that accompanied "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes?" and "50,000 Names," this night was all about George and his Jones Boys band. He struggled a little bit early on with the high notes of "I Always Get Lucky With You," but amazingly, his voice grew stronger and surer as the performance progressed. Maybe he's like an old motor vehicle that just needs a little time to get warmed up before getting fully into gear.

Jones' voice may no longer be the vocal natural wonder it once was, but his phrasing, sincere emotion and - especially - his rocky life experiences make him an active and still-relevant musical icon.

The Lost Dogs opened the show with a short six-song set, and although past Dogs albums have included everything from alternative rock to the blues, the trio wisely stuck to straight country for this brief opening slot. Its time onstage was short, but still sweet. "The Great Divide," with vocal harmonies pulled straight out of The Sons of the Pioneers' how-to-sing-like-real-cowboys book, offered this unit's brightest 'Best In Show' moment.

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