George's Gems

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Why George Jones? There's a case to be made that it's he, not Sinatra, Franklin, Holliday or any of those other pretenders, is American pop music's premiere talent. Matt Diebel explains here; below is exhibit A in the Case for George Jones:

"Mr. Fool" (Track 25, Disc One on "Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years")

George Jones, unlike contemporaries Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, has never been thought of much as a songwriter. But in his early career he provided much of his own material, as displayed on "Cup of Loneliness," a superb double-CD compilation of his late-Fifties/early-Sixties recordings. The majority of the tracks on the first disc are either written or co-written by Jones, most often with boyhood pal Darrell Edwards. That includes "Mr. Fool," a languid honky-tonker about lost love that is perhaps the supreme recorded example of Jones's exquisite phrasing. "No one can ever call me Mr. Fool no more," runs the last line of the chorus. Each of four renditions of the phrase takes you on a spellbinding journey of his vocal arsenal — swooping, clipping, playing with the beat, riding herd on the back-up band. In those lines, as with the rest of the song, you never know where Jones is going to lead you; at the same time none of it sounds forced or contrived. The whole happy confection is aided by the spare production of his first producer (and discoverer), Pappy Daily. Just a bunch of great studio musicians; no trilling back-up singers or recording trickery.

Although Jones later in his career was able to overcome the ornate encumbrances of Epic producer Billy Sherrill (think "He Stopped Loving Her Today"), he is at his best unadorned by violins and massed choruses. I also think that the early Sixties, when "Mr. Fool" was recorded, was when he was at his vocal peak. Writers often rave about how Sherrill persuaded Jones to explore a greater range, but the high-lonesome sound on this cut has a rawness and emotion that travels even further into the heart than his more mannered later efforts. If you agree, "Cup of Loneliness," a 1994 double-CD, is worth the investment. It has 51 songs (with hardly a dud), excellent liner notes, and has been carefully re-mastered from the original recordings.