Unless you haven’t been paying attention, you will already know this is a follow-up, the second EP in a series of three, by the music royalty pair, each addressing and celebrating the works of great country duet pairings. We dealt with the first volume …Do Porter & Dolly here, then hedging a bet it would be followed. And is there a better known C&W pairing than that of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, almost as well-known for their life offstage as for the songs they made together?
George Jones was one of country music’s biggest stars, perhaps the biggest. Whenever Johnny Cash was asked who his favorite was, his response always began, “You mean, besides George Jones?” His tally of 160 singles in the country chart gives just some idea as to the hugeness of his appeal, dwarfing the attainment of other genre equivalents. His legacy that has lasted well beyond his 2013 death, unlike many of his contemporaries on the self-same rhinestoned stages of ’50s and ’60s Nashville. Present-day aficionados include Elvis Costello and Robert Plant, who once said, “I now have to listen to George Jones once a day. Amazing singer. What a singer.” All this despite never any lifetime crossover success, he was always strictly country.
Tammy Wynette was his wife between 1969 and 1975, and was already a star in her own right. The succession of joint album recordings they made continued long after they parted, six released during the marriage and three after the divorce, including their biggest seller, ironically, 1976’s Golden Ring. (Incidentally, Tammy’s two best known solo hits, “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” and “Stand By Your Man” both came ahead of their marriage, so arguably each relate, in one way or another, to George’s effect upon her life.)
As with the last EP, David Mansfield is in charge, his magic hands on the production dials and much of the instrumentation. His love of the genre and of the period is obvious, managing to display the classicism of the songs and yet avoid most of the residual kitsch of the originals. A lower fat and less sugary re-envisioning that maintains all the goodness, but with a slightly more up-to-date taste. Some salt with the saccharine, then, tears with the honey, as befits the prevailing lyrical content.
“Golden Ring” is the opening track here, a two-verse distillation of the Jones/Wynette story, if with the reality owing rather less to the pawnshop. Or, possibly, not. This differs very little in arrangement from the original; there’s less orchestration, but they choose to keep the choral backing vocals that so date this from its time. It’s a rare false move.
“It’s So Sweet” is on much safer ground, with a real Gram & Emmylou feel, Parsons being another Jones superfan. But it is in feel alone, especially in the harmony. When Thompson and Muldaur’s voices are separated, they each show their own identity, here displayed as strongly as anywhere on these two volumes. The piano is glorious, very Glen D. Hardin-esque, the steel a warm background glow. If you know the original “It’s So Sweet,” this cover is very, and deliberately, sympathetic to that, and nothing like Dwight Yoakam & Kelly Willis’s much twangier take on it.
“Take Me” is one of those country blockbuster songs, possibly even daring in the declaration/instruction Tammy makes at the start, and must have helped a few bruised hearts feel mended on saloon dance floors, locked in the clinch of the next true heart. Originally appearing on Jones’ 1965 album, it is there an altogether different beast, a slow, languid waltz, almost a longing blues, a song of unrequited love. This version is a little less brash. Thompson and Muldaur sound a little more bashful, which gives a charming aspect absent in the George and Tammy original, no matter how daft some of these lyrics are (and they are).
Final song “We’re Gonna Hold On” is the highpoint here, a jaunty carousel of intent, with a bouncy hoedown rhythm, although do I again her the taint of a choir in the wings? Again, fairly faithful to the original, including the hooooold in the “hold on,” it is a song that has aged better than the other originals here. Those with an interest might note that George Jones has a writing credit for each of these last three songs. (Those as choral-phobic as I will note that Mansfield, Thompson, and Muldaur considerably wind down that aspect in their rendition, so on that basis, and to my ears, it is an improvement!)
George & Tammy is a bit of a step back overall from Porter & Dolly, I feel, although that’s perhaps more a critique of the material available to Teddy & Jenni rather than the quality of their performance, which (choir apart) remains stellar. Conway & Loretta get “done” next, and I can’t wait.
Teddy & Jenni Do George & Tammy Tracklisting:
- Golden Ring (George Jones & Tammy Wynette cover)
- It’s So Sweet (George Jones & Tammy Wynette cover)
- Take Me (George Jones & the Jones Boys cover)
- We’re Gonna Hold On (George Jones & Tammy Wynette cover)