Sharps & flats

"Cold Hard Truth" is peppered with dark ballads about lost love and regretful decisions. George Jones, country's greatest living voice, knows his subject well.

Topics: Country Music, Music,

George Jones is one of a handful of contenders for the title Greatest Living Country Singer. Born in 1931 and raised in dirt-poor conditions in East Texas, he began his singing career imitating his idol, Hank Williams. He quickly found his own remarkable voice, and after hitting it big with “Why, Baby, Why” in 1955, he went on to produce some of the most enduring music to come out of Nashville — songs like “Color of the Blues,” “The Window Up Above” and “She Thinks I Still Care.” His 1969 marriage to Tammy Wynette was fodder for the tabloids — they were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Country Music” — and Jones fell into a well-chronicled spiral of drug and alcohol abuse that nearly killed him. Shortly after Jones recorded “These Days (I Barely Get By)” (1975), Wynette walked out the door, and they soon divorced. When he published his autobiography, “I Live to Tell It All,” in 1996, he promised his self-destructive ways were way behind him.

Then, last March, Jones lost control of his Lexus and plowed into a bridge near his home outside Nashville, Tenn. He suffered a collapsed lung, a ruptured liver and internal bleeding. Miraculously, he survived. Jones later admitted he had been drinking — an empty bottle of vodka was found under the front seat — and he vowed one more time to kick the habit. “I came very close to death,” he said, “and I know the Lord works in mysterious ways and he spared me. I can only believe that he still has work for me to do here.”

Turns out that Jones had just about finished recording “Cold Hard Truth,” his first album for Asylum Records. And it’s a gem, the best record he’s made since “The Bradley Barn Sessions” (1994). Before the accident, Jones had planned to go back to the studio to re-record some of the vocals on “Cold Hard Truth.” It’s hard to imagine how they could have been improved upon, for Jones’ amazing vocal prowess is in top form. Even after 67 years of hard living, he can still outperform just about anybody in a cowboy hat. His voice — with its astonishing melisma and Sinatra-esque phrasing — is a gift from the heavens, an instrument of perfection in a world of pain and sorrow.



For “Cold Hard Truth,” producer Keith Stegall enlisted some of Nashville’s finest –including guitarist Brent Mason, fiddler Stuart Duncan and pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins — to back up the master, and they do so in a spare, classic manner that never gets too slick.

When Jones left MCA Records last year, he accused the label of failing to market him properly. “They just wouldn’t spend the money,” he said at the time. Maybe so, but the fact is, his last two albums for the label, “I Lived to Tell It All” and “It Don’t Get Any Better Than This,” both suffered from weak material. On “Cold Hard Truth,” however, the songs are all standouts, and most of them are dark ballads about lost love and regretful decisions, subjects that Jones obviously knows a thing or two about.

“Choices,” which begins the album, wasn’t written by Jones, but it sounds like the story of his wild, woolly life: “I’ve had choices since the day that I was born/There were voices that told me right from wrong/If I had listened, I know I wouldn’t be here today/Living and dying with the choices I’ve made.” In the title song, which borrows its melody from Jones’ 1980 hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the singer confronts his accusing conscience and discovers the “Cold Hard Truth” about his pitiful, self-deceptive existence. “Nobody’s perfect,” Jones answers in “Sinners & Saints,” “we’re just flesh and blood, one foot on the high road and one in the mud.” “Cold Hard Truth” isn’t George Jones’ swan song. But if it had been, the Possum would have left this sad old world on a high note.

David Hill is a freelance writer in Denver.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>