Pop albums

George Jones: I Lived to Tell it All; MCAD-11478
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The Independent Culture
As with George and Tammy's divorce-drenched comeback album of last year, I Lived to Tell it All plays solidly to the myth behind the singer, opening with a trill of bar-room piano and only leaving its seat at the bar to relieve itself of the occasional weepie. With material specially tailored to fit his forte, it's as good an old-school country album as you'll hear all year.

For all his problems with the bottle, Jones retains a healthy sense of humour as regards the demon drink. In the opening "Honky Tonk Song", he is pulled over by the cops and forced to dismount his motor-mower (based, I believe, on a real incident in his own life), explaining that his wife "took my keys away, and now she won't drive me to drink".

Having started, George sees no good reason to stop. "I saw the neon sign/ Happy hour, two for one/ Sounded like a lot of fun..." is the start of the most hopeless apologia ever offered for waking up alongside a total stranger ("The Lone Ranger"). Less comically, "I'll Give You Something To Drink About" finds George's wife walking out on him after he stumbles home "completely out of my mind... Down to my last line". It makes no difference: with brutal realism, he is left sitting there alone, "already reaching/ For what drove her away".

Another wife (perhaps the same one) walks out on him in "Tied To a Stone", one of the more gut-wrenching songs on an excellent album. Whoever it is harmonising on the chorus brings to the song the same kind of bitter, pristine beauty that Emmylou Harris added to Gram Parsons' Grievous Angel, although there is a world of difference separating Parsons' earnest, innocent tones from Jones's mellow, weathered baritone. Judging by "Billy B Bad", a satiric transposition of "Johnny B Goode", George would certainly have preferred Parsons to the ranks of hat acts cluttering Nashville, if only for his authentic frailties. A jaunty tale of a Billy-come-lately country- rocker who "didn't have much soul or country roots/ But he sure looked cute in his cowboy suit", the song is laced with enough cutting, spiteful lines to gladden the heart of the hardest cynic. Somewhere, Billy Ray Cyrus's ears are burning.

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