George Jones' career now stretches from his beginnings in the '50s as a honky-tonk traditionalist to his current status as country's unsurpassed master of autobiographical pathos. His latest release, "Shine On," is a solid if unspectacular example of his mature balladeering, emphasizing Jones' smooth-as-whisky voice and tense phrasing.
Billy Sherrill's production is subtle and low-key, perfectly complementing the emotionally resigned and wistful ballads that dominate here. The title cut is a gentle and tender romantic tribute that, like much of this record, avoids the self- conscious and overdramatized misery that has marred some of Jones' later albums.
A much more essential purchase for country fans is "Burn the Honky-Tonk Down," a carefully selected compilation of many of Jones' best, unheralded recordings for Musicor Records from 1965 to 1971. This was the most prolific and artistically dismal period of his career, characterized by hasty recording sessions, overblown arrangements and some horrible duets. Not surprisingly, the selections here are among his most musically unadorned recordings at Musicor. The title cut is a classic piece of fiddle-driven honky-tonk; "Feeling Single -- Drinking Double," recently revived by Emmy Lou Harris, is a hot piece of hillbilly rock'n'roll. Perhaps best of all is "Where Grass Won't Grow," a tragic folk ballad that harkens back to the poor working-class roots that spawned Jones and so many other country legends. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM GEORGE JONES -- Burn the Honky-Tonk Down (Rounder Special Series 15); Shine On (Epic FE38406). THE SHOW GEORGE JONES, Monday at 7 at Fairfax High School Fieldhouse.