The Grand Tour

George Jones

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The Grand Tour Review

by Thom Jurek

1974 was a hell of a year for George Jones creatively, with one of his finest Epic records, The Grand Tour, being issued that year. Jones' partnership with producer Billy Sherrill saw some of its finest fruit here. The Grand Tour was a watershed for Jones, boasting the title track as one of the most devastating country singles ever issued that came so close to crossing over it was being played on some adult pop stations along with Sinatra, Bennett, Dionne Warwick, and Herb Alpert. Ironically, one of the co-authors of the tune was none other than Jones' about-to-be-ex-wife Tammy Wynette's future husband George Richey. If ever there were a song that cut too close to home for the singer it was this one. Sherrill worked his most creative magic over it, with a string section that only revealed the size of itself when he wasn't singing and filled in between the guitars, piano, and pedal steel during the sung lines. Jones poured his heart into every syllable and its chilling quality after almost 30 years attests to this. But this cut was only the beginning. "Pass Me By (If You're Only Passing Through)" with the Jordanaires is one of those haunting, mid-tempo honky tonk love songs that won't let go after the first chorus has been sung. As ballads go, "She'll Love the One She's With" by Hank Cochran and Grady Martin is one of those jealous country waltzes where obsession and love continually cross each other. Shored up by a small string orchestra and a pedal steel cascading through the vocal lines, it's wrenching and poetic. Johnny Paycheck's classic ballad "Once You've Had the Best" is done poetic and musical justice by Jones and Sherrill; in fact, this version blows away the author's. And in a nod to both Bakersfield and Jones' "Thumper" period, "The Weatherman" is a honky tonk stomper also partially authored by Richey and it sounds as if it were written just for this session; coming in the middle of a host of broken love songs, this is an optimistic, even giddy tune with a Mickey Raphael harmonica solo and a Don Rich sound-alike guitar break in the middle. Ultimately, this is Jones' country, the kind of country music that is pure yet as sophisticated as Sherrill wanted it to be. Chet Atkins and all of his countrypolitan productions never had anything on Sherrill, and with the greatest singer in the music's history as part of the team, combined with a collection of absolutely staggering songs (only I Am What I Am rivals it), this is one of the finest country records of the '70s and perhaps in the top 100 of all time.

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