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George Jones still tries making his musical mark

Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, Mass., March 31, 2005

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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At 73, George Jones doesn't need to be on the stage plying his hits dating back 50 years for the masses.

So one assumes that the gray-haired legend performs because he wants to, not because he needs the greenbacks.

And Jones generally put on a pleasing performance, covering songs from different aspects of his career.

He started with his very first hit, "Why Baby Why," from 1955. During the first few songs, however, it became evident that Jones has lost something from his heyday due to vocal limitations.

While that continued for awhile, Jones grew stronger vocally as he went along, shining on the classic chestnut "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and turning in a good performance on an ode to veterans, "50,000 Names," with a video on the background about the Viet Nam memorial in Washington and photos of deceased soldiers.

Jones did not go through the motions during his generous 95-minute set. He put his oomph into songs, even if his voice was not quite holding the pitch or his range was a bit more limited (though Jones said since he quit smoking, he was able to hit the high notes, but said he had trouble with lower notes).

Jones made light of his rowdy, hell raising past saying he was going for the bottled water, which he did a number of times. Truth be told, it really was water - George Jones' White Lightning bottled water, which they were selling at the merchandise table for $5 a pop.

The Jones Boys capably backed up Jones. Drummer Bobby Birkhead was a great timekeeper, easily setting the beat, and Jim Buchanan did numerous good turns on fiddle, including leading three instrumental hoedowns ("Black Mountain Rag" and "Blackberry Blossom" were particularly strong).

And Jones received a lot of vocal help from husband-and-wife Barry Smith and Sheri Copeland with Copeland particularly adding a lot. She could easily have outsung Jones, but did a good job in adding vibrancy to the songs without overdoing it.

Jones probably was at his best on the closing number, the defiantly titled "I Don't Need Your Rockin' Chair." He had the vocal spark and intensity throughout the song, which on disc was an all-star affair with help from the likes of Patty Loveless and Vince Gill.

Here, it seemed like a reminder from Jones, who is slated to put out another album of new material later this year, that he is still trying to make his musical mark. While his skills may not be what they once there, he is not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.