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Various Artists

Deer Lodge - George Jones – 2014 (Deer Lodge)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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You could make a good case that Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings or even Toby Keith is country music's greatest male vocalist of all time. You could, but you'd be wrong. No one could squeeze more emotion out of a country note than George Jones. And while the performers on a new indie tribute couldn't hold the ol' Possum's microphone let alone hold one of his notes, what these largely unknowns from the Great Northwest, San Francisco and Los Angeles lack in skill, they more than make up in passion, conviction and reverence his work.

About the only noticeable classic missing from this 30-song collection compiled by the Deer Lodge recording studio in Southeast Portland is "Good Year for the Roses." Otherwise this is sweeping retrospective of Jones, who died in April 2013. Largely stripped down versions with a sense of immediacy, classics like "She Thinks I Still Care" by the Wellsprings, Country Ride's "Bartender Blues" and Drugstore Cowboy's "Her name Is ..." are great listens. The duets are represented with Hook & Anchor's "Hold On."

But the Jones hits from the late 1970s and early '80s are some of the surprising gems. Lewi Longmire and the Portland Country Underground's mournful version of "Still Doing Time," Brush Prairie's "Tennessee Whiskey" and Hank Sinatra's "I Always Get Lucky With You" are real delights. Honky Tonk Union's "Finally Friday" also is a great listen.

Stephanie Lynn apparently was tasked with Jones' signature "He Stopped Loving Her Today." An "A" for effort, but otherwise a pretty forgettable version. Water Tower also turns in a less-than-stellar version of "The Race Is On." But W.C. Beck offers what could be the best track of all, turning Jones' sorta schmaltzy "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" into a haunting, stark query of country music's hazy future.

Lots of drinking, plenty of womanizing, lots of loneliness and just a smidge of fidelity. The ol' Possum would no doubt be happy if country's future was in these guys' hands.