George Jones' recordings for the Musicor label weren't so much lost as hung up in legal limbo. When Jones left Musicor for Epic in a rancorous split with label owner and manager Pappy Daily, seven years (1965-71) of prime recordings were left to haphazard reissue and illegitimate copying, and worse yet, inferior contemporary re-recordings. This is a textbook example of the cultural blockades created by the multiparty complexity of music licensing, restrictive copyright laws and the lawyer tax that attaches to just about everything. Jones waxed over 250 master recordings for Musicor during the early prime of his recording life, so the riches that have been locked in the vault are substantial.
True, the Musicor sessions didn't always live up the standard of "Walk Through This World With Me," "Where Grass Won't Grow" or "A Good Year for the Roses," but these simpler productions provide key contrast to the more complex arrangements Billy Sherrill would employ at Epic. Among the thirty-four tracks are twenty-three charting hits (missing only "No Blues is Good News" and the Melba Montgomery duet "(Close Together) As You and Me"), and eleven album sides. Lesser known singles like "Small Time Laboring Man" are complemented by excellent obscurities later resurrected by Keith Whitley, Elvis Costello, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Emmylou Harris and others. Listening to the high quality of these performances it seems criminal for seven prime years of Jones' career to have been available only to collectors who'd maintained a turntable.
Bear Family produced the full Musicor output on a pair of 2009 box sets (Walk Through This World With Me and A Good Year for the Roses), but the price tag of these imports is out of reach for many. Time Life's two-CD set gets to the core of Jones' greatness in the latter half of the 1960s, and though a couple dozen more sides could have fit on these discs (their absence no doubt a by-product of the U.S. per-track royalty structure), what's here is true country gold. A few tracks seem to have been re-mastered from vinyl as there are a few minor pops and ticks, but the fidelity is excellent and the performances uniformly superb. The sixteen page booklet includes terrific photos and informative liner notes by Colin Escott. If you can't afford the box sets, this is a must-have. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]