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Various Artists

Stone Country: Country Artists Perform the Songs of the Rolling Stones – 1997 (Beyond)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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This must have looked like a fantastic idea on paper: The Rolling Stones were hugely influenced by American blues and country records and never missed an opportunity to sing the praises of Howlin' Wolf or George Jones. So why not have some of today's biggest names in the country industry return the favor by recording their own versions of their favorite Stones songs?

Unfortunately, reality is a different thing altogether.While well-intended, this is a mess. Too many songs are approached with overawed reverence. The arrangements, in far too many cases, add absolutely nothing to the originals other than slicker production values. It would have been great to hear Tracy Lawrence recast "Paint It Black" as a barroom weeper. And it would have been so easy to do. And, like so many other artists here, he missed his opportunity to bring this material back to the country. The same criticism applies equally to Sammy Kershaw's "Angie" or Collin Raye's "Brown Sugar."

The second major problem is "Stone Country" focuses exclusively on the Stones's major hits. While this might have seemed like a great idea in the marketing department, the group recorded a number of superb country songs that were never released as singles. As a result, it's just tragic that Travis Tritt takes the easy road in covering "Honky Tonk Women" when he could have covered "Country Honk" (a country version of the same song on "Let It Bleed"). By the same token, "Far Away Eyes" (from 1978's "Some Girls"), perhaps the Stones's greatest country moment, is conspicuous by its absence.

There are three silver linings. George Jones turns in a fine version of "Time Is On My Side," which, while no great shakes in the arrangement department, at least has that patented Jones voice working in its favor. And Nanci Griffith nearly upstages Possum with a terrific version of "No Expectations." The biggest surprise, however, is BlackHawk. Though one might have expected them to turn in a by-the-numbers rendition of "Gimme Shelter," they've done their homework and contributed a solid neo-bluegrass rendition of "Wild Horses." It's not going to make anyone forget the Flying Burrito Brothers's version, but at least it shows some effort, which is more than can be said for most of the rest of the album.

This could have - and should have - given a lot more satisfaction. Still, it could have been worse: Someone could have covered "2000 Light Years From Home."