Monday, July 26, 1999

Cold Hard Truth

"Happy songs sell records. Sad songs sell beer."

I'm not one to dismiss an entire genre of music. I sincerely believe there are worthwhile artists in any category from children's music to opera from rock to Gregorian Chants. The medium isn't nearly as important as the voice and the heart of a courageous soul who certainly can utilize any canvass to express that voice. I do have my prejudices. For me the most difficult music to open up to has been rap. So much of that particular type music seems to be rooted in anger. While that is an entirely legitimate emotion on which to base a song, I've never been one to see the value in ranting and raving without a hint of salvation or a solution at the end of the tunnel. I think to many of my more "sophisticated" friends rap is just as difficult to appreciate as country music. Most people I associate with seem to have a loathing for country music.

I must admit most of modern country music leaves me cold. I can no more tell a Garth song from a Clint song from an Alan song to a Tim song. Same goes for Patty and Shania, and Deanna, Wynonna and Trisha. Still it is my opinion that for the all time great (an all too important category) whiskey drinking music it is a close call between Mr. Sinatra and George Jones. Is there a better drinking song that Jones' He Stopped Loving Her Today? Good golly what a sad and at the same time cold hearted song. Jones is also to be admired because he is without a doubt authentically the "real thing." Listen to any song on our multitude of country stations and tell me that the artist singing doesn't owe some debt to Jones, the ultimate voice in the ultimate Americana genre.

News of Jones' near fatal accident recently meant that any new release from the man was a must hear. His newest CD, Cold Hard Truth doesn't disappoint. The liner notes depict the CD as a major comeback from an artist that surely has never gone away. Completed before the accident the ten songs are a sobering look at the man's life. The packaging of the CD is quite impressive with flattering liner notes from the president of Jones' newest label, Asylum Records, along with some terrific photographs of Jones at various stages of his life along with the many people he has touched and inspired over the years.

Cold Hard Truth opens with the ultimate Jones song, a song that would have paid fitting tribute as an obituary to a man who has lived a long hard life. Choices is as confessional as it is redeeming. The man clearly needed to sing this. The song is remarkable as it is a song only Jones could possibly do justice to and yet he wasn't the one who wrote it. "I was tempted. By an early age I found I liked drinking and I never turned it down. There were loved ones. But I turned them all away. Now I'm living and dying with the choices I made." The song asks for forgiveness with true regret.

The remaining tracks are country music at its best. There are songs about broken hearts, broken dreams, broken promises, and lives gone wrong yet somehow have managed to endure. The voice wavers but still is as effective as ever. This is a man who has lived these songs. It is a voice of a man who has scoffed at 'de debbil' and now is facing the consequences and fear of his life's decisions. In the title track Jones reveals what he has learned. "The way you run away from love. The way you try to play it cool. I'm gonna say this one time. 'Time is running out on you.' You best remember me my friend. I'm the cold hard truth." Egads!

Yes there is a bit of twang and a whole lot of country cliché. Still this is a man who helped invent those clichés so he must be given some credit and latitude. It is an emotional expression from a singer who has time and time again exorcised his demons in music while providing inspiration to all that will put away their pretenses for a moment and just listen. That this turns out not the man's epitaph is reason enough to celebrate.

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