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George Jones

The Gospel Collection – 2003 (Bandit)

Reviewed by Tom Netherland

Country and gospel music once were as close as Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Inseparable friends from varying walks of life, folks came to expect the pairings from time to time.

Change could be afoot. With George Jones' new double-disc, perhaps a reversal of tone lies ahead. In his hands, traditionals, such as "Amazing Grace" and "Peace in the Valley," could shiver the spine of the strongest among us. Not just any singer can do that. Consider that Jones has long walked the thin line between sin and salvation.

Augmented with guest vocalists, such as the mighty Vestal Goodman and Patti Page, the Possum maintains a blessed serious tone. Just lend a listen to "Mansion on the Hilltop" with Goodman. Stand back and prepare for one of the most powerful duets of this or any other year. But at 70, Jones does not have the vocal chops of Jones at 30. Since a near-fatal car crash, it appears that his voice has lost some of its range. Highs are not as high, and lows are not as sustained.

Talent remains. Just as Frank Sinatra's approach changed as he grew older and his vocals dimmed, Jones now leans more on life's experiences in relaying messages. For example, Kris Kristofferson's "Why Me Lord." Particularly poignant given Jones' turbulent past, he agonizes over why success came his way while missing those perhaps more deserving.

Great songs on the tongues of great singers make for the most beautiful of life's noises. Jones' latest comes packed to the pews with wonderful noise galore.