George's Gems

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"Once More" (Track 6, "Vintage Collections: George Jones and Melba Montgomery," Capitol Records, 1996)

The high school I attended had a particularly strong bluegrass tradition. Not so strange, you might think. But this was England.

We even had a bluegrass band, made up, "Deliverance"-style, of two pairs of brothers (Davies and Townsend). In fact, they were pretty good — the guitarist actually had a Martin, a rare thing in England. And one of the songs they played was this classic track, written by'50s country performer Dusty Owens and made famous by Roy Acuff. It has since become a bluegrass standard, used by, among others, David Grisman and the Osborne Brothers.

Why George Jones? Matt Diebel explains here.

Past Gems:
'We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds'
'He Made Me Free'
'The Selfishness in Man'
'The Honky Tonk Downstairs'
'Once a Day'
'When Your House Is Not a Home'
'Three's a Crowd'
'Mr. Fool'

And it may well have been the Osborne Brothers who brought this song to the attention of George Jones and Melba Montgomery. The Osbornes, more on the country side of bluegrass, used to tour with Jones and Montgomery in the early '60s. Anyway, "Once More" ended up on 1964's "Bluegrass Hootenanny," the second of three albums Melba and George made together (the best tracks of which are collected on this disc). In fact, this ballad has the Osborne Brothers signature all over it, with a banjo and some drum work providing a lilting country-bluegrass feel.

It's a really simple song — just a verse and chorus (repeated to barely make a two-minute track) — and has a classic call-and-response format, which Jones and Montgomery carry off to perfection. Unlike most of their duets, Montgomery does the harmony honors here. She proves herself to be just as capable as Jones in this department, bringing a new dimension to their partnership.

After a short banjo-heavy intro, George and Melba take it away:

Once more, to be with you dear
Just for tonight, to hold you tight
Once more, I'd give a fortune
If I could see you, once more

Forget the past
This hurt can't last
Oh, I don't want it to keep us apart
Your love I crave
I'll be your slave
If you just give me all of your heart

I particularly like the different ways the Tennessee-raised Montgomery and Texas-born Jones pronounce some of the words.

"For-get," sings George. "Fur-git," intones Melba.

"Yur love," warbles George. "Your love," croons Melba, as if correcting him.

It's a charming revisit to the more innocent days of country music, and must surely have given Jones great pleasure. After all, he grew up listening to the clear band of WSM in Nashville (the home of the Grand Ole Opry) and such stars as Tennessee's Roy Acuff and Kentucky's Bill Monroe, the latter, of course, the inventor of bluegrass.

This "Vintage Collection," released in 1996, is one of a series from Capitol Records (other artists featured include Merle Haggard, the Louvin Brothers and Hank Thompson). Sadly, it has been discontinued. All the tracks were recorded at Nashville's Columbia Studio B, the famed Quonset Hut on Music Row, with producer Pappy Daily lining up the city's finest session men — the legendary "A Team" — including Buddy Emmons on pedal steel, Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano and Curtis McPeak on banjo. It's well worth seeking out on Ebay or in the bargain bins.