Don Rich

Sings George Jones

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Sometime during the height of Buck Owens' Hee Haw-fueled popularity, somebody decided it was a good idea to have Buck's lieutenant Don Rich record his own solo album. And so somebody -- probably Buck, as he was always the one running the show -- decided that Rich should step up to the mike and record a set of George Jones covers. And so during July 1970, Buck produced Rich as he led the Buckaroos through ten Jones songs, playing such hits as "The Race Is On," "The Window Up Above," "White Lightning," "She Thinks I Still Care," and "Love Bug," Rich singing and playing acoustic, then laying down overdubs of electrics and fiddles afterwards. The results are none too surprising: it sounds like the Buck albums of 1970, or the instrumental Buckaroos albums from around the same time, only with the amiable Rich singing the melodies. As a lead singer, Rich may not be especially compelling -- a distinction made clear by the presence of four bonus tracks at the end of the much-belated 2013 release of Don Rich Sings George Jones; here, Buck takes the lead on four tracks from the same Hee Haw sessions as Omnivore's simultaneously released Honky Tonk Man collection and he's dynamic, charismatic, and funny, traits Don doesn't have on his own -- but he is good-hearted and sweet, a relaxed frontman who is ingratiating. Most of the album is devoted to songs that are slightly slower than "The Race Is On," so there aren't so many showcases for Rich's lightning-quick guitar leads, but the album remains a testament to the versatility and easy virtuosity of Rich and the Buckaroos, and is very easy to enjoy. As for why this wasn't released until 2013, who knows? The most likely scenario is that Rich's lack of star presence as a singer kept the album from release in 1970, and then nobody bothered to trawl through Owens' vaults. But now that it's been discovered, it's nice to have it available because it, like the accompanying Honky Tonk Man, proves that it's always fun to hear a crack band play at the peak of their powers, no matter who is standing behind the mike.

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