Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. This is not a tribute album. For one thing there are only five songs on it. But it's not a tribute EP either. Only three of the five were ever recorded by Jones. Whatever you call it, this is the first of two recordings celebrating two very different musical icons. The second, due in January, will fete another George - Giorgio Moroder, an influential producer who worked with Donna Summer and paved the way for electronic dance music. So it's fair to say that Jennings has eclectic taste, and the purists are probably bristling already.
But they needn't. "Don't Wait Up, (I'm Playing Possum)" was a tune Jenings wrote for Jones, who passed away before he could record it. But it's easy to see that the Possum would have liked this dark tail of cheating and retribution - all that plus a pun in the title. "Living in a Minor Key," a low-key celebration of classic country has less of a direct relationship to Jones, and at just over two minutes feels half-finished.
When it comes to the covers, Jennings knows how tricky it is to pull off. If you hew too close to the originals critics will accuse you of unoriginal rehashing. Put too much of a different spin on the classic tracks, and you'll be accused of sacrilege. Jennings chooses a middle ground of changing it up just a little on "She Thinks I Still Care," one noticeable difference being the way the vocals, instead of being at the forefront, are now somewhat overshadowed by instrumentation, which is probably always a temptation if you can't sing as well as George Jones - and who can? Choosing to spread the heartache and cirrhosis to both genders by making "If Drinking Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)," a duet with Katy Cole, is an interesting choice. The nearly minute-long feedback and miscellaneous mechanical noises a much more questionable one.
The real stand out here is Jennings version of "The Door." Even No-Show himself couldn't have made this tale of a heartbreak worse than "earthquakes, storms and guns and war" as convincing and as chilling as Shooter Jennings does.