The Grand Tour
"There's the Bed"
This album opens with George Jones, known to some fans as the "King of the Broken Hearts," offering a guided tour of a house that used to be home. As you might expect, the place is loaded with bitter memories. Every room triggers some different recollection of the woman, the good times, the child she ripped from his life. Jones sounds at once shattered and determined to move stoically on; he's audibly haunted by the place and what it represents.
Country records (even George Jones records) that start out so vividly usually devolve into filler pretty quickly. Not this one. Produced by Billy Sherrill and featuring swooning strings and surprisingly delicate rhythm section work, The Grand Tour goes from one stunning Jones showpiece to the next. Many are concerned with little treacheries in the margins of the book of love: Jones summons a gentlemanly respect to tell about his last lover ("Once You've Had the Best"), and strikes the cautious pose of one who doesn't want to be hurt again ("Pass Me By if you're Only Passing Through"), and in each case, seems to completely live inside the emotion of the song.
Jones sings in a plainspoken and unassuming way, and as his songs evolve, his delivery slyly enhances the troubles described in the lyrics. The emotional shades come through little gestures—he'll chuckle halfheartedly, or give a dejected sigh, or shrug his way through a line, letting the inflections tell the story.
When this album was made, Jones was in the grip of serious alcohol addiction, but you can't detect that from the firm, resolute performances. Along with Jones's comeback effort of 1980 I Am What I Am, which contains his hall-of-fame single "He Stopped Loving Her Today," this album stands among the most memorable vocal performances not just in Jones's storied career, not just in country music, but in all of music.
Released: 1974, Epic
Key Tracks: "The Grand Tour," "Darlin'," "Once You've Had the Best," "Borrowed Angel," "She Told Me So"
Catalog Choice: I Am What I Am; Heartaches and Tears; In a Gospel Way
Next Stop: Conway Twitty: She Needs Someone to Hold Her
Book Pages: 408–409