By BILL CRAIG
Asserting that the country-music business that George Jones started making hits in 50 years ago is radically different than the one he continues to star in today would rank as the year’s, if not the decade’s, most painfully obvious statement.
It’s only slightly more enlightening, but perhaps comforting, to point out that the sound of Jones’ traditional-to-the-core brand of country has withstood the intense pressure to change with the Nashville major label, commercial radio-driven times.
Evidence of that could be found in Richmond last night at as Jones, along with his Jones Boys Band, shared 50 years of hits with a reverent audience at Richmond’s Landmark Theater.
The Jones Boys, who are actually five men along with vocalist Brittany Allyn, attempted to warm up the crowd with a collection of tepid covers of tunes made famous by Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and Jerry Lee Lewis.
That portion of the show was mercifully brief as Jones, looking dapper in a white shirt that matched his white hair, opened up with “Why Baby Why,” the same song he used to open his career in 1955.
The bulk of Jones’ meal money has been earned with his signature mega-heartbreak fiddle and pedal-steel drenched ballads. Jones peppered last night’s song list with wonderful chart-toppers such as “A Picture of Me Without You,” “Once You Have the Best,” “Bartender’s Blues” and everybody’s favorite, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Though most of the tears generated by Jones’ country are of the crocodile variety, he stirred up some genuine emotion with “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” his tribute to some late, great country stars, and “50,000 Names,” which honors those who have lost their lives in defense of our country.
For a change of pace, Jones offered up some gospel with his version of Tom T. Hall’s “Me and Jesus,” rocked out just a bit on “Sinners and Saints” and his familiar but relatively new anthem, “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” and bordered on the philosophical with the lovely “Choices.”
Allyn teamed up with Jones for a few of the hits he had with Tammy Wynette, including “Take Me,” “Near You” and “Golden Ring.” While Allyn is the owner of a lovely, lovely voice, those duets were a reminder, as if we needed one, that there will never be another Tammy Wynette.
Jones is three days shy of his 76th birthday, and his slightly weathered voice is beginning to show the effects of more than five decades in the business. While he threatened at one point last night to play until 2 or 3 a.m., his 90-minute, encore-less set wrapped up well before 9 p.m. But all that appeared to be just fine with last night’s crowd, many of whom looked old enough to have been around when Jones first started cranking out those hits.