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Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, December 17, 2004, Music

George Jones

50 Years of Hits (Bandit)

In a year where a no-talent like Kenny Chesney was awarded Entertainer of the Year at the Country Music Awards and goofballs Big & Rich attempted to unite rap and country with a nasty guffaw, it's heartening to troll through the 3-CD 50 Years of Hits. Like the liner notes assert, "This collection will remind you what great country music is all about." If anyone alive can achieve that task, it's "Ol Possum" – George Jones – regarded by most as the finest vocalist in country's recorded history. With one song from each of the 50 years Jones has been recording, the singer's label Bandit has done a magnificent job of cross-licensing the catalog, although they acknowledge they weren't able to work out a deal for Jones' late-Sixties hits. Instead, re-recordings of "Walk Through This World With Me," "She's Mine," "I'll Share My World With You," and "A Good Year for the Roses" have been substituted for the originals. Their absence is regrettable, but the remakes are strong and the originals are hardly missed. The rest is glorious, from 1955's hillbilly "Why Baby Why" to a rousing version of "Amazing Grace" from last year's The Gospel Collection and all hits in between. Some think Jones' career peaked around 1980, after "He Stopped Loving Her Today," making roughly half of what's here superfluous. But he continued to have moments of brilliance on duets with Merle Haggard ("Yesterday's Wine") and Randy Travis ("A Few Ole Country Boys"), as well as the title track to the masterpiece "The Cold Hard Truth" from 2000. The Jones box set from 1994 does a more complete job of exploring his musical legacy, which makes this collection less than essential, but it's an admirable overview of the man's greatness nevertheless.


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