George Jones’ name is synonymous with pure country so the very concept behind Bear Family’s 2011 compilation Heartbreak Hotel: Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight might strike some as odd. Unlike so many collections of George’s recordings for Starday, Mercury, and United Artists, this pushes the honky tonk to the back burner, favoring all the rockabilly and country boogie Jones cut early in his career. Turns out, this is quite a bit -- 35 tracks by Bear Family’s count, including a couple of big hits like “Tall Tall Trees,” “White Lightnin',” and “Who Shot Sam,” along with tracks that often pop up on Mercury recordings, but this also has rockabilly singles George recorded under the name Thumper Jones and very rare, previously un-reissued sides he recorded for Starday’s budget-line fly-by-night Dixie label, where he covered hits of the day like Johnny Horton’s “One Woman Man” and Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” On that, George gamely adopts some of Elvis’ loose-legged mannerisms and that goes a long way in explaining the sensibility of this collection. Even when Jones is singing about Jesus, this is tremendously fun, wild music, sometimes rocking really hard -- the opening alternate take of “Rock It” careens madly -- sometimes getting absurdly silly, sometimes just laying back as George sings a bit of the blues. Most of all, Heartbreak Hotel does the rarest of things: it surprises, not because it does dig up some rarities -- and it does, which may be enough for hardcore collectors -- but because of the context. By putting all these rocking sides in one place, Bear Family reveals that George Jones isn’t only a consummate country crooner but one of the wildest rockabilly cats, and that’s why Heartbreak Hotel is absolutely essential.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine